High pay for COVID-19 nurses leads to shortages at some hospitals

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Ivette Palomeque made $45 an hour on a flexible schedule as a staff intensive-care nurse at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston.

Today, she earns $120 an hour working in an ICU in McAllen, Texas, the latest in a string of “travel nurse” jobs she has held over the past 16 months. The journey that has taken her from Miami to New York City and back to Texas.

She plans to work high-paid crisis contracts as long as she can. Nursing pay may never be this good again, she said, and persistent understaffing means that working conditions for staff nurses aren’t likely to improve.

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“Going back to a staff job is just not an option,” said Ms. Palomeque, 45 years old. “Absolutely not.”

The pandemic has altered the labor market for nurses and other medical staff. As Covid-19 spread in spring 2020 and filled emergency rooms with sick patients, thousands of hospital staffers were drawn by sky-high pay and the chance to help hard-hit communities like New York City. Others left the profession after long months treating critically ill patients.



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