Texas is depending on travel nurses more than ever as COVID patients overwhelm hospitals

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Hospitals across the state are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, and depending on travel nurses more than ever.

Even before the pandemic, the Department of State Health Services projected Texas will be short 30,000 nurses by 2025. Now, COVID-19 is only heightening that shortage.

Hospitals are making difficult treatment calls.

“They actually called me the day before and said that they had to cancel it,” Teresa Griffin, of Austin, said her open heart surgery was canceled just the day before due to staffing problems.

“They were having to take the surgical nurses to put them in with the patients with COVID,” 65-year-old Griffin said.

She’s frustrated because she’s done everything on her end during the pandemic.

“I’ve even had my third vaccination, you know, so it’s very frustrating that other people are not willing to go and get it and then getting sick and ending up in the hospital,” Griffin said.

Similar stories can be heard across the state.

DSHS has allocated 8,100 extra medical personnel to deploy across the state, but even that doesn’t meet current demand.

“Even the number that we were allocated, we have not received them because the staffing agency is not able to fulfill that request,” CNO Susan Greenwood at Hendrick Health in Abilene explained.

StaffDNA, a Plano-based app that connects travel nurses to open positions across the country, has noticed a massive increase in open positions.

“Back in January, we’re looking at roughly 10,000 jobs in our job board. We’re now averaging roughly about 22,000 jobs on the job board,” Jennifer Pomietlo, StaffDNA’s Vice President of Strategic Development, explained.

In Texas, specifically, demand is so high that pay has more than doubled.

“The pay package just previously used to be about $2,000 a week, and we’re seeing now pay packages paying roughly about $5,000 a week,” Pomietlo said.

“In August, 20% of the job applications from StaffDNA went to Texas. It was the second most applied to state behind Florida,” Pomietlo added.

On average, it takes about two weeks for a nurse to get relocated, trained and on the floor.

“You typically only get one orientation shift on the floor, and then your next shift, you’re expected to be on your own and be independent,” Dakota Dahlke, a travel nurse based in South Austin now, explained.

She said she’s noticed a massive shift at each hospital she’s worked at during the pandemic, compared to pre-pandemic times.

“You tend to have to get used to being short-staffed and taking maybe a larger patient load than we were expected to pre-COVID,” Dahlke said.

The Texas Nurses Association said it’s worth looking at the bigger picture and coming up with long-term solutions to the shortage going forward.

“Almost 40% of people who apply to nursing programs are turned away. And so we have to figure out how we can enroll all of those students,” Serena Bumpus with TNA said last month.

For now, Teresa Griffin is hoping more Texans will get vaccinated to help our healthcare system.

“It’s very frustrating,” Griffin said. “…Us people that don’t have a choice for being sick and needing to be in the hospital or getting put to the side for someone that could have gotten vaccinated.”