Travel Nurse Crisis Contracts Canceled As COVID-19 Slows
As rates of new infections and hospitalizations from COVID-19 are finally slowing down, travel nurses are seeing an unfortunate side effect: their crisis contracts canceled unexpectedly.
Crisis contracts can come with high rewards for both hospitals and travel nurses alike–hospitals are able to depend on sourcing high-quality health professionals who can see them through a crisis event very quickly and travel nurses are compensated for placement in uncertain and potentially dangerous circumstances with crisis pay. However, with high rewards also comes high risk.
Travel nurses taking crisis contracts run the risk of having to be available at a moment’s notice, rearranging their lives very quickly, facing difficult situations on the job and as we are seeing, having their assignment dropped last-minute. Here’s what travel nurses should be aware of as more crisis contracts are being dropped as COVID-19 hospitalizations trend downwards.
Why are crisis contracts being canceled?
At the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals staffed their ERs and ICUs with many travelers in anticipation of being hard-hit by COVID-19 patients. Even in some hospitals where staff nurses in more elective departments, like surgery, were being laid-off, travelers were able to procure contracts with high wages in other departments and specialties.
And throughout the pandemic, as the virus has peaked near holiday events and in the cold weather, crisis contracts have been readily available. As spring approaches, however, in almost every part of the country, new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are finally decreasing. According to the CDC, the U.S. is currently in week five of a continual downward trend of new cases. Percent positivity rates for tests are going down, along with hospital admissions, and vaccination rates continue to climb, all pointing to a possible and hopeful end to the pandemic in the future.
With new cases and hospitalizations down, however, the emergent need for crisis contracts has slowed as well, leading to the abrupt cancellation of some traveler’s contracts. Hospitals in “hotspot” areas, like Utah and Arizona, that may have been utilizing travelers to get through high infection times or hospitals that may have been preemptively staffing in fear of variant infection have very quickly lost the need for the high cost of crisis travel nurse contracts.
Travel Nurses Speak Out
TravelNursing.org’s Facebook and Instagram pages are full of frustrating stories of travel nurses who have had last-minute cancellations or are awaiting official confirmation of a contract pulled just as they were about to leave. From Washington to Texas to Ohio to Arizona to Iowa, as patient numbers have dropped, so too have the contracts that travel nurses thought were a done deal.
Samantha Firari, RN, had her travel nurse assignment to Tulsa, OK canceled only a day before she was set to move while Sarah McGibbon explained that while she was able to keep her contract in Grand Island, NE, it was only after being forced to move from Med/Surg to PCU.
Many staff nurses also chimed into the conversation, noting that they had witnessed their hospitals canceled travel nurses on contract. An ER in North Carolina, for instance, canceled 8 traveler contracts and while the staff nurse who reported the cancellation noted her hospital had done it in as “professional” way as possible, we can still imagine that it was an unfortunate situation for all involved.
Even travel nurses who haven’t had their contracts canceled yet are living in anxious anticipation of being next. “[My contract hasn’t been canceled] not just yet, but I’ve been offered to take off for two weeks, switch to night shift,” says Kristin Thompson. “The census bottomed out the week I started. It’s only a matter of time, I’m afraid.”
What if your crisis contract is canceled?
Unfortunately, you can’t necessarily predict or prevent a contract from being canceled. However, if you are aware that contracts are being canceled in the area that you’re booked in, don’t be afraid to talk with your recruiter –– you have every right to ask if there is any risk of cancellation. And if you aren’t aware of the policies in the event that you are canceled, be sure to learn them and ask with every contact you secure in the future.
In some cases, your contract may stipulate that you will receive some kind of pay if you are canceled. However, as trauma ICU nurse Rodney Sassee points out, most hospitals and facilities stipulate that they can cancel with no payout as long as the citing reason for cancellation is low census.
If your contract is canceled, there are some steps you can take. First, you’ll want to check with your agency to see if you are eligible for any cancellation pay. You may also be eligible for unemployment benefits or be able to secure another assignment in the area or even a different department within the same hospital if you have already moved.