Triad hospitals are in the middle of a delicate balancing act – giving patients the best care without putting even more of a strain on staff.
They’re trying to stay ahead of the COVID crisis by adding travel nurses.
These are men and women who travel away from home, typically for months, to go where the need is.
“I knew that there were going to be needs across our nation. I also know that there are needs home,” travel nurse Alex Bearder said.
Bearder was born and raised in North Carolina.
She spent part of her career working in Georgia’s metro Atlanta region.
She’s now treating COVID-19 patients at Cone Health’s Green Valley Campus – the former Women’s Hospital.
“Our goal is to be a part of the team, so we don’t see ourselves really as temporary, but for as long as we can kind of be of service,” Bearder said.
John Ferreira is a travel nurse who has worked at the Green Valley Campus since April 2020.
His first travel nurse assignment was in Greenville.
He was in Salem, Virginia just prior to coming to the Triad.
He says his experiences have been rewarding.
“It really, really has been rewarding because you get to go to different places, meet different people and see what other hospitals do differently than your home hospital,” Ferreira said.
Cone Health has 363 travel nurses, the equivalent of about 10 percent of the staff.
“We’ve got about 287 being used just to treat Covid patients, but we also have travel nurses in some of our harder to staff areas like our intensive care units and some of our progressive care units,” Cone Health Chief Nurse Executive Dr. Kenneth Rempher said.
Getting that many travel nurses on board didn’t come from a quick phone call.
It took weeks of planning based on projections from data scientists.
Looking ahead has not only helped to meet patient needs, but it has also helped address concerns surrounding staff burnout.
“Cause during times like this, we ask people to pick up additional shifts. We ask them to pick up overtime and we’re very careful because we have a worker fatigue policy that requires us to stay within certain guidelines,” Rempher said.
Cone Health’s contracts for travel nurses are typically 13 weeks but can be renewed for longer.
There are plans to add another 50 in the next few weeks.
Novant Health has 242 travel nurses across its acute care facilities in North Carolina and northern Virginia.
Wake Forest Baptist Health is also using travel nurses, but an approximate number was not available.