Travel Nursing

Travel Nurse Crisis Contracts

What is a Travel Nurse Crisis Contract?

Crisis contracts are a popular topic in travel nursing news and social media groups. In contrast, another frequently occurring subject is how many travel nursing contracts are getting canceled. Many nurses, both travelers and staff, are being laid off from their jobs due to virtually non existent patient censuses, overestimation of staffing needs, and the halt of elective surgeries.

A crisis contract is a travel nursing assignment that is in an area that is desperate for nurses due to unforeseen circumstances. These contracts usually pay well above the average travel nursing salary and are taken on very short notice. The assignments are often in a trial by fire environment with above average patient ratios.

Take caution with Crisis Contracts

Coronavirus has taken over many parts of our country, and New York City has taken the biggest hit. Last week, many travel nursing contracts were offering upwards of $4500 per week for facilities in and around New York City. And, there was that one highly sought after agency- offering $10,000 per week for nurses willing to work 7-21 days in a row (contracts varied), and to enter the uncertainty that is plaguing New York right now. There has been much debate about the legitimacy and legalities of these contracts.

But, why so much money? What is so special about those $10K contracts? Aside from the stress of working so many shifts in a row, these nurses are often being asked to fly to New York without knowing what facility or shift they will be working. In addition to THAT, once they get on site, I’ve heard reports of ICU ratios being 1:6-8 and med-surg ratios up to 15 patients. And the nurses are in PPE 90% of the time. 

So, is that $10,000 warranted? Yes, of course. I will never say nurses don’t deserve every dime they get. We all deserve the maximum amount of money we can make, especially entering an environment that sounds like a war zone. But, that is not anywhere near an average travel RN salary. Strike contracts do not even pay that much. That should not be the expectation going forward. 

Current COVID-19 Travel RN Contracts

These contracts are for premium cash, but those also come with strings attached. Many contracts are for at least a 48 hour commitment per week, and can also be canceled at any time. Yep, AT ANY TIME, the hospital can decide your role is unnecessary and you will be jobless. Keep in mind- most ‘normal’ travel contracts would at least have a clause that would mandate a two week notice if the facility were to cancel you. These contracts are not ‘normal travel nursing’, they are disaster response. 

Tip: Advocate for yourself! Ask for a statement in the contract that requires a 2 week notice from the hospital for any cancellation. Personally, I would even offer to take $500 less per week in exchange for the clause- uncertainty makes me nervous 🙂 

Why Are Travel RN Contracts Being Canceled?

Contracts are being cut short for a few reasons. First, the patient population is fluctuating and maybe the hospital doesn’t have as many COVID patients as anticipated. Maybe that location hasn’t peaked yet, or is now predicting a mild form of the pandemic. Second, hospitals are struggling for cash flow. Elective surgeries have been canceled and many healthcare providers are out of work. Some hospital systems are opting to still pay these employees a percentage of their salary in order to keep them onboard for when the country reopens. This is part of the reason for the high ratios- they need travelers but cannot afford to pay for the amount they actually need to safely take care of the massive amounts of patients they are seeing. 

Is it right of hospitals to do this? No, of course not. It’s hard to fathom any healthcare workers being laid off, given the fact that most facilities were already short staffed before this. But unfortunately, healthcare is a business in this country, and hospitals can’t afford to pay their employees without incoming revenue. When this is all over- we have a LOUD voice as healthcare workers to change the approach to healthcare in the US. We should use that voice- more to come in the future when we can all go outside 🙂

COVID Contract Specialty Travel RN Needs

If you are not an ICU, ED, or highly skilled med-surg nurse in a hot zone, there is a real chance that your contract may be canceled. Hospitals cannot furlough or lay off their med surg and procedural nurses and keep travelers; that is not realistic financially or morally. 

Many of the current crisis contracts are surrounded in uncertainty. Hospitals and agencies don’t know what to expect or how to anticipate the needs. After an initial desperate cry for help, some places are realizing they do not actually need the exorbitant amount of extra staff. 

Take a crisis contract at your own risk, and only if you know you can afford to be canceled. Be ready to be uber flexible and be shifted around a lot. Don’t have any expectations of a normal travel assignment. You are there to take care of COVID patients, and that will most likely be the only patients you will see. 

We All Want to Help…

And for those who are kinda sad that you missed out on the first wave of reliable high paying jobs- it’s okay. You’ve reduced your exposure and chances of contracting the virus. You are safe. That is important right now. And you know what- YOU TRIED. Even getting out there and trying to help is appreciated by these communities. Just having the thoughts, and talking yourself into leaving everything you know to go help in a time of extreme needs means a lot. And thank you. Thank you for trying and thank you for continuing to look for ways to help. 




Rachel Norton BSN, RN

I have been a critical care nurse since 2007. I grew up in the northeast but enjoy every corner of the country. My passions are people and travel. Travel nursing allows me to meet amazing people and satisfy my wanderlust. I love inspiring other nurses to travel and expand their practice.

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