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National Demand For Travel Nurses Raises Concerns About Availability For Local Hospitals

The emergency entrance to a hospital in San Diego is shown in this photo, Jan...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: The emergency entrance to a hospital in San Diego is shown in this photo, Jan. 3, 2018.

A local staffing agency is helping the nation’s hospitals find enough clinicians to care for surges in COVID-19 patients, but the rising demand across the U.S. could make it difficult to meet expected staffing needs in San Diego County.

San Diego-based Aya Healthcare is already seeing requests for travel nurses skyrocket from facilities around the country.

Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

RELATED: Nurses Move To San Diego And Around US To Care For COVID-19 Patients

April Hansen, Aya’s executive vice president of workforce solutions and clinical services, said the company is seeing its highest national demand than at any other point in the pandemic, and hospitals are mostly after highly skilled intensive care unit nurses.

“They're balancing all of the normal ailments that bring people into hospitals and they have the complexity of COVID on top of that — caring for patients that are suffering with COVID-19 right now is very time and labor intensive,” Hansen said.

Photo credit: Aya Healthcare

National job opening data for travel nurses is pictured in this graph, Nov. 23, 2020.

According to data provided by the company, requests are highest in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Texas and California. But locally Hansen said travel nurse requests to Aya from San Diego hospitals actually dipped recently but was still high and is now inching up.

Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, chief medical officer of clinical excellence and experience at Scripps Health, said the system’s facilities have been able to manage the patient load with current staff levels but expects to need more travel nurses in the future, which has her worried there may not be enough clinicians to go around.

“As of now, we’ve been able to juggle. But with the entire county spiking, it is going to become harder to get staffing, especially in our ICUs, so the need will go up again just like it did in the summer,” Sharieff said. “But we’re concerned that this time, we may not get the travelers as readily as before, due to the intense demand in other parts of the country.”

Local officials this week announced at least 518 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19, a record high, but because of reporting delays, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported the local hospital association's more timely assessment put the figure at 576. The surge may continue after daily reported coronavirus cases also set records. Hospitalizations tend to increase in the weeks after new positives are reported.

County data show 6% of San Diegans who tested positive for the virus required hospitalization.

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