An Agency Standpoint on the Front Lines of COVID-19

An Agency Standpoint on the Front Lines of COVID-19

This Gilbert staffing agency gets nurses and doctors to the front lines of the COVID-19 battle.

In a typical week at AB Staffing Solutions, the Gilbert firm that places travel nurses and physicians in clinics and hospitals across the country, the company would find temporary professional homes for an average of 250 nurses and 90 physicians.

Then came March and the rise of COVID-19.

Now, AB Staffing president Evan Burks sees his firm each week fill an average of more than 400 nursing and 120 physician positions where they are desperately needed. While some are in Arizona, the majority of health workers are sent to New York and New Orleans. Most recently, Burk has seen the need pick up in Philadelphia.

Nursing demand has been high over the past few years and that trend doesn’t look to change. Over the next six years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for 200,000 registered nurses per year — not including the impact of COVID-19. Registered nurse employment is expected to grow 12% by 2028, far faster than most other occupations.

Usual travel nurse assignments are about 13 weeks. With COVID-19 assignments, they range from four weeks to one year.

The firm has provided personnel in 42 states, including Indian Health Service hospitals and clinics to address needs on the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation. In these cases, it’s common for AB Staffing to get a nurse or doctor to their destination within 24 hours after the request is made, or the healthcare professional makes himself available.

This is new for the industry and the agency, the latter of which has been involved in the staffing industry since the 90s.“ I’ve never seen this kind of pace in my experience,” he said. “It has been a very busy last couple of months, but it’s been phenomenal that we’re able to help. It’s good for our staff to be able to get out there and help save lives.”

Getting workers to the front lines is a massive administrative operation.

In addition to nurses and doctors, the firm, which started in 2002, supplies physician assistants and allied healthcare professionals like pharmacists and respiratory therapists. The professionals hail from Arizona and across the nation. Many thrive amidst a travel environment, going from assignment to assignment and town to town. Some are able to drop everything and get on a flight at a moment’s notice.

Moving allied healthcare professionals, locum tenens and travel nurses into different states for varying amounts of time and for different unit needs.. this is a big piece of the puzzle. When facilities have little to no internal process to contact and employ local healthcare professionals, the agency steps in with mobile pros.

This is a particular asset in the wake of the COVID-19. There’s a realm of moving parts required to get providers to the front lines. Since March, AB Staffing employees have worked around the clock seven days a week to make it happen.

The most urgent requests are for emergency room and intensive care unit registered nurses, pulmonologists and respiratory therapists.

An internal travel department arranges flight and housing details while the credentialing department confirms that professionals meet the criteria, from making sure their licenses and certifications are valid, doing reference and background checks and other screenings. They also secure particulars like travel expense, lodging and per diems for food.

Before, this process took a couple of weeks, Burks said. Lately, they’re able to turn them around closer to a couple of days because they have to. Tools like Nurse Backpack Credential Management and RapidHire Pay Package Calculator are resources that can help.

These healthcare professionals are really putting themselves out there.

“They’re working long hours to get these people in the field. I’m quite impressed with how quickly they jumped on this. It’s one thing to be afraid for your family or your own safety, but this came up and the staff was willing to come in for the extra hours.” The number of nurses and physicians seeking these opportunities to help wherever needed, even after completing a job, has also made an impact.

Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association was the recipient of 6,000 of those masks. Ann-Marie Alameddin, president and CEO of the Phoenix non-profit, said that the donation is invaluable to the healthcare professionals at the hospitals and long-term care, public health and emergency medical services facilities.

"Just the need for PPE is so essential to protect our healthcare workforce personnel. That need is more acute in COVID-19. With those 6,000 masks, think about those 6,000 nurses and medical assistants,” Alameddin said.

In this climate, Alameddin explained, the service staffing agencies are providing is just as essential as protective gear. With Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order that hospitals expand their capacity to 150%, Alameddin said that also means increasing staff to handle the increase of patients.

“You need a staffing company that can get temporary staff to your hospital and make sure they are vetted and have all the requirements. Hospitals are very dependent on them,” she said. “It just shows how important (it is) for all entities to engage. There’s tremendous willingness to help and I think their staffing agencies are really important in making sure healthcare workers are protected during this really trying time.”

What's the future for temporary healthcare staffing with COVID-19?

It’s part of a U.S. healthcare staffing market that was valued at $17 billion in 2019, according to Grand View Research. More specifically, it’s dedicated to an industry where pay rates for nurses willing to travel to designated crisis areas increased by 76%, according to TravelNurseSource.com. But are they being paid that increase in turn? If you're a travel nurse looking to find out, check into the RapidHire Tool negotiation options.

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