Actually the first reply (#1) was right on the mark. Estimates of the cost to recruit a nurse (or train a new grad) are 40K and up. Travelers are actually cheaper in this phase of the economic recovery. Businesses are unsure if increased business will continue and hire contingent staff. Translated into nursing lingo, travelers are hired when the census increases until the hospital is certain it will stay up. It can take considerable time before a hospital considers hiring more permanent staff during a recovery.
This always happens in economic swings and holds true in this one. Travelers were first to go (down a touch over 50 percent), and are the first to be hired when things get better (now). Simple answer, you do have a shortage of nurses in your area and the need is being met by travelers despite the ready supply of new grads (who need an expensive orientation period).
Your story of importing foreign nurses was pre-2007/8 when the nursing shortage was acute. That will eventually be the case again. Look for a real crunch in 2014 when the healthcare act takes full effect - if not voted back out.
Travelers cost more than staff in every respect otherwise. Familiarity with local conditions and culture, experience in a particular hospital, continuity of staff and morale, control over practice are all better for the hospital with permanent staff. Not to mention actual cost of travelers is higher.
That said, there are a number of conditions where hiring travelers is beneficial to a healthcare system. Upswings of census until hospital is sure there is no downswing. Seasonal shortages where hiring a year round employee costs more than a temp. Covering vacations, pregnancies, and leave. Finally acute regional or national shortages.
Staffing real shortages does cost more, but that is the nature of business - supply and demand. Real shortages bring about real increases in pay (what we've been seeing in nursing over the last 20 years as well as a steady rise in the number of travelers) which leads to more people becoming interested in nursing as a career, which leads to more nursing schools
and graduates. The recent downturn is cutting waiting lists, and schools are closing. Wages and hiring is stagnant. And the cycle continues. However, all estimates are that nurses will be in short supply when full employment resumes and will be for the next several decades. Unfortunate for the new grads today though.
I graduated nursing school
in California during a mild downturn in 1992 and was unable to land a hospital job in the state. I found a good one in Baltimore after many interviews nationwide, 9 months after graduating. California was a little behind the curve in that downturn, and other state economies were improving earlier. This "jobless" recovery of the last two years has been brutal for new grads but things will be getting better.