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UPMC cuts travel nurse pay | Local Business

4 min read
UPMC cuts travel nurse pay | Local Business


UPMC is cutting the pay of its in-house travel nurse program by 15% and offering starting wages to central Pennsylvania travel nurses that are 29% less than when the program started in 2022. 

It’s a sign of how the health care labor market is changing, a spokesperson for the 40-hospital, Pittsburgh-based UPMC health system said. 

The base wage for UPMC travel nurses already employed is set to drop to $72 compared to $85 two years ago. Meanwhile, UPMC’s advertised wage for central Pennsylvania operating room and medical surgery floor travel nurses starts at $60 an hour, down 29% from $85 two years ago. 

UPMC, which operates a hospital in Warwick Township near Lititz, announced the program in December 2021. 

WellSpan Health also started its own in-house travel nurse program, called WellStaffed. Spokesperson Ryan Coyle said there are no plans to change the program. He declined to share wage details. Nurses travel among that health system’s eight hospitals, which includes WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital in Ephrata Borough.

When UPMC and WellSpan started the travel programs, hospitals had seen nurse shortages exacerbated by the pandemic and turned to staffing agencies as nurses left the profession or were out sick. Agencies, however, charged fees and paid nurses much higher wages than staff nurses and soon some staff nurses were shifting to travel jobs. By creating an in-house department to service its 40 hospitals in a three-state region that included Pittsburgh, the UPMC health system was able to save money on fees.

“Since that time, the healthcare landscape across the U.S. has continued to dramatically change and there has been a significant shift away from external agency use, including a rapid decrease in contract rates,” Wood wrote in an email. “The UPMC travel staffing program is now evolving, as others have across the country. We have made significant progress to stabilize our site-specific nursing workforce.”

In a broader context, health systems across the country have spent the last two years reckoning with the financial burden of higher pay, inflation and changing payment sources.

A recent analysis from management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. predicted the acute strain from labor shortages, inflation, and endemic COVID-19 on the health care industry’s financial health in 2022 is easing but health-system margins are lagging behind their financial performance relative to pre pandemic levels.

Wood wrote that UPMC would continue the travel program with premium pay to maintain flexibility in its workforce. Nontravel nurses are paid between $34 to $48 an hour at UPMC, according to its job web site. Just two years ago, the health system said it paid between $17.52 and $44.52 an hour. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for registered nurses in Lancaster County was $37.52 in May 2022, the most recent official data available. A recent analysis of job search site Zip Recruiter ads puts median hourly wage for registered nurses in Lancaster County at $39 an hour.  

Pre-pandemic, independent staffing agencies charged about $85 an hour and paid traveling nurses $50 an hour. In December 2021, John Galley, UPMC chief human resources officer, told LNP | LancasterOnline that agencies charge between $200 and $280 an hour and pay $85 an hour.

The program had aimed to employ about 800 travel nurses. UPMC did not answer a question about how many travel nurses were currently employed. 

Outrage online

A TikTok video by nurse influencer and advocate .the.nurse.erica drew 531 comments and another 261 on her Instagram. 

Some asked the influencer about challenging the pay cut since they say they were told the pay agreement was not a binding contract. 

“You have the power,” she said in her video.

The pay cut comes as the health system – the largest private employer in the state – confronts a legal challenge to its acquisition of two-hospital system Washington Healthcare Services outside of Pittsburgh. Unions have filed an antitrust complaint against UPMC shortly after the acquisition was announced last year.

“We are incredibly grateful to the UPMC nurses who are in the UPMC travel program,” Wood wrote. “Their dedication and flexibility has been and will continue to be a key component of our care team as we continue to respond to the dynamic healthcare landscape in the U.S.”

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council said in a recent report that in fiscal 2022, 39% of Pennsylvania hospitals posted operating losses or a negative operating margin, which indicates many hospitals continue to face serious financial challenges.

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