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With health systems exploring many viable labor strategies including telehealth, upskilling/cross-training team members, utilizing part-time or per diem resources, moving patients and/or staff around within a system, we felt compelled to go deeper into the topic of how to procure and maximize the use of agency labor to help meet COVID-19 demand by offering ten specific strategies.


  1. The Health System paying the highest rates does not necessarily get the most, or the best, talent

In response to the demand for travel clinicians, hourly rates for travel nurses currently on assignment are up ~15% on average. However, as COVID-19-driven demand increases across the country, the hourly rates for currently open positions are, in some cases, at 200% of the regular rate.

When elective surgeries ceased and demand for travel clinicians dropped this spring, many health systems canceled travel clinician contracts, starting with those clinicians booked at the highest rates. Staffing agencies and clinicians are aware of this, and while they will only consider positions with competitive market rates, many are reticent to fill the highest bill rate positions for fear of them being canceled and having to incur the opportunity costs of re-acquiring work elsewhere.


  1. Lower the friction to conduct interviews and hire-offers in four hours or less


The demand for travel nurses, as measured by the number of open positions across the country, has increased by more than 230% since Q1 of this year. The speed with which a health system can interview and offer is one of the most important factors for securing a temporary team member. In order to have the best chance at securing an RN, candidates should be vetted and interviewed within two to four hours of being submitted by their agency.

Available candidates are often working with multiple agencies and are being submitted to eight or more jobs, so the health system that moves the quickest to interview the candidate can often secure the clinician, even if they are not offering the highest hourly rate in the market.

If your Managed Service Provider (MSP) or staffing partner has a team of clinicians who understand the requirements of the units, then allow them to conduct the interviews on behalf of the hiring manager in order to accelerate the speed to interview.

At SimpliFi, we complete a 42-point clinical evaluation on each unit of the health systems we serve, have a detailed conversation with the hiring manager, and then utilize RNs from our Clinical team to conduct the interviews. This service is saving nurse managers thousands of hours which is then being re-deployed into leadership and patient care on the unit.


  1. Continuity of patient care is key, so extend, extend, extend the talent on-hand


At normal times, there are ~40,000 nurses working as travelers in the United States. This spring, staffing agencies could direct this universe of available talent to hot spots like Seattle, New York, and New Orleans as COVID-19 surged in those communities. The talent pool could meet the demand, as there were a relatively limited number of geographies surging at one time.

However, the large geographic distribution of this second surge is making it much more difficult to secure new clinical talent because there simply are not enough clinicians to meet the demand. Therefore, a key strategy for health systems must be to extend the contracts of all travel clinicians currently on-site.

We are seeing health systems extend any clinician with a contract that expires in 2020, and they are generally extending at hourly bill rates higher than the original contract. It is in everyone’s best interest, especially the patient’s, for the clinician to stay-in-place, so maximizing the rate to the level it takes to attract new talent is often not necessary.


  1. Start securing clinicians for January starts and beyond, now


While the patient care demands of this moment are certainly urgent and help is needed right away, it simply may not be possible to secure a travel clinician to start in the next few days or even weeks. Clinicians typically travel for 13-weeks at a time, and there is a rhythm around when the majority of clinicians start and end travel assignments, with the largest single start period occurring in the middle of January.

On average, clinicians contract for their next assignment approximately six-weeks in advance, so health systems that are only evaluating clinicians for November or December start dates are missing out on the supply of candidates who are available now for January.

Another way to think about this is that the window of time for contracting the travel clinicians needed for patient care in January is rapidly closing.