Demand for certain types of nurses and other healthcare professionals is rising across the US as the Covid-19 pandemic surges in the country. Bill rates are up, with some providers seeing increases of 30% to 40% — some hospitals are paying nurses as much as $8,000 to $10,000 per week, Kaiser Health News reports. At the same time, many clinicians face stress and exhaustion as the crisis continues to hit the US hard.

Mental Healthcare

One area seeing demand amid the pandemic is mental healthcare. MDstaffers, a physician provider based in Rancho Cordova, California, recently announced a new mental health division.

COO Ryan Larkin says the firm has a long history of placing psychiatrists and nurse practitioners in mental health and now places psychologist and licensed therapists within the new division. MDstaffers expects to place 1,000 mental health professionals in the period between September the end of the year.

Part of the reason for the demand is that government programs are starting to recognize telehealth as a legitimate vessel for the provision of care. Telehealth is also more economical for insurers and it attracts patients who might not otherwise seek mental healthcare.

“The past few weeks in particular, it’s just been going through the roof,” says Adam Francis, president and CEO of Host Healthcare, a healthcare staffing firm based in San Diego. “We’ve never seen this many job orders to fill.”

Francis says he’s seeing particular demand for intensive care unit nurses, medical/surgical nurses, progressive care nurses and telemetry nurses.

Nationwide Needs

At the start of the pandemic last Spring, demand was concentrated in certain areas such as New York City; now, demand is surging nationwide. Hospitals did staff up across the country in March, Francis notes, but facilities canceled assignments in April when an anticipated increase in patient census did not materialize outside of the hardest hit areas.

“Early on … we tended to have very concentrated hot spots; right now it seems to be pretty widespread,” says Matt Pierce, co-founder of Trusted Health, an online platform for nurse staffing based in San Francisco.

Demand is following Covid-19 as the pandemic continues to rage across the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Covid Data Tracker, there were 48.7 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 in population in the trailing seven days and 265,166 deaths as of Nov. 29. However, several states were particularly hard hit, and several states reinstated stricter measures to control the spread.

Exhaustion Sets In

But demand — and fatigue — among nurses and other healthcare workers is happening.

Craig Meier, CEO of Medical Solutions, a healthcare staffing firm based in Omaha, Nebraska, says some clients are using travel staff as a “release valve” as their own clinicians face mandatory overtime amid the crisis.

“Their clinicians are exhausted, they’ve been in this world since February and they don’t see an end in sight,” Meier says.

It’s more important than ever for healthcare staffing firms to step up and do what they are best at, which is providing staff.

Meier’s company, Medical Solutions,  has been able to serve its clients, finding the needed nurses. “As a company, we do whatever it takes to fill these positions with quality clinicians, including increased compensation, incentives, additional employee assistance services, and guaranteed quarantine pay,” he says. “That is the stance that we’ve taken. … Let’s be a partner, let’s do it right and take care of these heroes.”

But he’s heard of instances where hospitals reached out to new staffing firms as their existing suppliers were unable to keep up with demand.

Fierce Competition

And competition to attract staff remains severe.

Supply and demand has resulted in additional pressure, forcing hourly rates up to attract needed resources, as clinicians heading to the front lines and putting themselves at risk deserve higher wages, and are receiving them. Companies like Medical Solutions offer quarantine pay to clinicians to ensure if they must go into quarantine, they will continue to get paid.

Host Healthcare’s Francis also notes the competitive market for clinicians. There’s always been a shortage, he notes, but the pandemic has ramped up demand while proving to be tiring and taxing on clinicians. Meanwhile, some nurses are choosing not to travel now out of concern for their own health, such as older workers. And some are unable to travel because they have children in remote learning.

The fatigue nurses feel as the pandemic rages on is of great concern to healthcare staffing executives.

“There was a rallying cry when it first hit and nurses are some of the most incredible people on the planet, so they’re rushing to the front lines,” says Trusted Health’s Pierce. Now, burnout and fatigue are on the rise. In fact, a study from Trusted Health found that nurses report a 30% decrease in their mental well-being since the beginning of the pandemic. And while pay remains a factor, safety is equally important. Clinicians also shared other concerns, such as whether they will get adequate personal protective equipment, whether the hospital has a plan for patient surges and whether workload and acuity expectations are reasonable.

Trusted offers two weeks of guaranteed quarantine pay to its nurses and partnered in April with The Ohio State University College of Nursing to provide an emotional support telephone line, as well as an individualized four- or eight-week program of coping and wellness strategies to nurses working on the front lines against Covid-19.

Pierce believes technology has also become more important by allowing nurses take more control of their careers and sign up for assignments online when they want.

Other trends are a higher-than-usual number contract extensions beyond the industry-standard 13 weeks and states — that aren’t part of the multi-state Nurse Licensure Compact — are easing the way for out-of-state nurses to practice.

Host Healthcare’s Francis says hospitals used to book people six to eight weeks in advance, now they are asking for the people sooner.

The focus now is on filling the needs of clients. However, 2021 remains murky. Questions abound. When will the market get back to normal? What will that mean for healthcare staffing firms? Also, what does “normal” mean post-pandemic? Will demand return to pre-Covid levels? Healthcare staffing firms are trying to understand what lies ahead but it’s not entirely clear right no. There are many factors in play including the economy.