As the fight against Covid-19 rages on, forecasts say the US has already entered a recession. However, a number of healthcare staffing firms report increased demand for staff by hospitals and others.

“We have definitely seen an uptick in crisis response style orders,” says April Hansen, executive VP of workforce solutions and clinical services at Aya Healthcare, a healthcare staffing provider headquartered in San Diego.

Covid-19 shifts healthcare staffing landscape

Covid-19 has brought sudden and massive change to the healthcare staffing market, and the landscape continues to shift. Orders for travel nurses are at record levels while assignments associated with non-critical procedures have experienced a spike in cancellations. As many elective procedures have been cancelled, anesthesiologists have been moved to overwhelmed ICUs. Within allied health staffing, the virus has driven a sudden shift in demand from PT/OT/SLT to respiratory therapy.

Not to downplay the challenges, but this is also an opportunity for the healthcare staffing industry to show how useful it can be amid a pandemic causing wide fluctuations in demand for labor. Also, such a shifting landscape gives individual staffing companies opportunities to build relationships with new clients and new candidates.

In this highly fluid environment, recent research can help staffing companies stay on top of the latest information. One resource available is our latest US Staffing Forecast, released April 7, which projects 2020 and 2021 revenue growth for healthcare staffing and the other major segments. We will also be conducting frequent pulse surveys, which will survey staffing firms on revenue growth, gross margin, bill rates, unfilled orders, new orders and recruiting orders, and information will be provided specific to certain segments such as healthcare. Another source of information is our Covid-19 Resource Center, which contains the latest information on economic impacts, regulatory changes, government stimulus and other developments related to Covid-19.

Once the pandemic abates, the landscape may shift back, releasing pent-up demand for elective appointments and procedures, but the trust gained by clients in staffing companies that delivered in this critical time will last.

Hospitals are concerned about their own staff becoming unavailable because of quarantines as well as additional patients coming in to be treated. Hansen says hospitals were in planning mode last week and started sending orders last weekend.

Aya is currently posting more than 1,000 crisis-response jobs.

Some states have begun taking action to offer expedited licensing procedures. Also, hospitals are cancelling elective surgeries. “That leaves an entire group of clinicians that are highly skilled and qualified which can easily be redirected to other areas of the health system,” Hansen says.

The situation around the pandemic remains dynamic and fluid.

Still, “it’s very affirming of our profession and all the different types of healthcare providers,” says Hansen, who is a nurse herself.

Unprecedented Situation

The severity of the coronavirus situation is a first, says 35-year healthcare staffing industry veteran David Savitsky, CEO of ATC Healthcare Inc., based in the New York area.

“We’ve never really experienced this kind of a high level, all-hands-on-deck-everywhere-in-the-country situation,” Savitsky says. “It’s unprecedented. We’re trying to do everything we can to help the facilities we work with meet their needs, be able to help the patients that they have and will have.”

Savitsky says he was quarantined for 14 days after coming in contact with a Coivd-19 victim. “I already have lived the result of the coronavirus.”

As far as demand, he says his company is seeing a demand in orders, including for med-surge nurses, which had not been in demand prior to the pandemic. Increased demand is also coming for intensive care nurses, respiratory therapist, respiratory and X-ray techs, and emergency department openings, among other positions.

Buyers are concerned over the supply of healthcare professionals because these front-line workers are more likely to be exposed and put in quarantine than other types of workers. There are also concerns that some current workers may be nervous and reluctant to come in for work. Many in healthcare may also have children at home because of school closures, and that is adding pressure to the workforce as well.

More patients are also coming. Savitsky says the “worried well” arrive at healthcare facilities thinking they have Covid-19 symptoms. While they may not have the disease, they must be treated as if they did until proven otherwise.

Some hospitals are so concerned they are asking staff to remain at the facility overnight. “Once they are in and functioning, they want them to stay,” says Amy Stafford, director of operations at ATC Healthcare. Facilities hope by doing this they will have staff on hand to immediately step in as well as quell concerns the workers could be exposed to the coronavirus outside the hospital.

Hospitals are also not so fast to tell workers who may have been exposed that they can’t work. In one case, two nurses were exposed to a person suspected of having Covid-19, but they were allowed to continue working while being tested to ensure they did not have the disease while the patient’s results were being processed. Ultimately, the patient was found to not have Covid-19.

Hospitals aren’t the only facilities seeing increased need for staffing either, Stafford says. Nursing homes are as well. In addition, some large, nonhealthcare companies are setting up screening stations at their sites to test employees for Covid-19 before they are allowed to come into the building to go to work.

Majority Willing to Work

IntelyCare, an online nurse staffing platform based in Quincy, Massachusetts, surveyed its nurses and found that 74% of nursing professionals are still willing to work during the pandemic. However, 26% of nurses would consider reducing or stopping work to avoid infection.

Nurses also prioritized the availability of hand sanitizers, masks and hazard pay, according to the company.

IntelyCare also says all of its nursing workers are required to complete a Covid-19 best practices course in the IntelyCare app before taking shifts. The company is also making the app available to all nurses.

“We are seeing unprecedented demand on our platform and app from nursing facilities and nurses, all looking for support in dealing with coronavirus,” Chris Caulfield co-founder and chief nursing officer at IntelyCare, said in a statement.

The company says it has also put protocols in place to immediately notify nurses if they have worked at an infected facility.

Internal Staff

At Aya Healthcare, internal staff is working seven days a week at this time to take care of clients, says Amber Zeeb, VP, employee experience.

Zeeb says approximately 90% of staff are working from home, and the transition has been smooth. Many staff members had worked at home at some point in the past. And for those internal workers still in the office, the company has ramped up cleaning and disinfecting as well as practicing social distancing. Aya has also cancelled events and curtailed nonessential travel. The company is also bringing in extra help to handle the extra work.

“I’m incredibly proud and impressed to see how people have come together,” she says.

Right now, it’s unknown how long the pandemic will last, although many governments are issuing orders aimed at slowing the virus’ spread. There were 4,226 cases of Covid-19 in the US and 75 deaths as of March 17, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.