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Job offers of up to $12,000 a week lure Houston nurses to COVID-19 hot spots

Houston nurse Millicent Peters receives job solicitations pertaining to COVID-19 once or twice a week, but even she wasn’t prepared for the pitch texted to her cell phone last month.

If she could relocate immediately for a temporary assignment in one of the disease hot spots, Krucial Staffing was offering a salary between $5,000 and $7,000 a week, plus a travel bonus, free lodging and per diem meals.

It didn’t have the desired effect.

“It kind of upset me, dangling a carrot in front of a horse like that,” said Peters, a charge nurse at Houston Methodist Hospital. “It preys upon young nurses who, not used to negotiating contracts, get excited about the money, unaware of what they might be getting themselves in for.”

Peters ignored the solicitation, but at least two of her colleagues couldn’t resist, part of the increasing exodus of nurses for COVID-19 “travel assignments.”

Months after personal protective equipment was so coveted by hospitals, nurses are now the hot commodity, desperately needed around the country to staff beds filling up again because of the winter surge of pandemic patients.

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To recruit nurses, hospitals turn to staffing agencies like Krucial, Trusted Health and Nomad, which advertise salaries at least double what nurses typically make if they’ll come help plug the shortage. Most are like the offer Peters received — $121 an hour regular pay, $181 an hour for required overtime — but some go even higher. One agency recently posted a job in Fargo, N.D., paying $8,000 a week. A Methodist official said he just saw a travel assignment in California for $12,000 a week.

The recruitment goes over much better with the hospitals that hire the nurses than those who lose them. Hospital associations across the nation report receiving many complaints from member institutions about agencies “poaching” their staff. One hospital spokesman compares the landscape to one in which vendors hawked exorbitantly priced bottled water after Hurricane Harvey.

Texas has indeed become one of the hottest destinations for nurse recruiting. Krucial, which in the spring led the effort to bring nurses to New York, is now focused on Texas, exemplified by recent travel job advertisements on its Facebook page for a Texas gig. Methodist reports a significant increase in nurses taking such offers in December.

The Harris Health System has lost 84 nurses to such assignments since June, the majority in the last few months.

“The poaching has hit us hard, made it difficult to cover shifts, put us over a barrel,” said Maureen Padilla, Harris Health’s chief nurse executive. “What bothers me is that it’s price-gouging at its very worst during a national emergency.”

The use of traveling medical staff began in the 1980s, a response during a nursing shortage due to strikes and infectious diseases circulating in certain areas. But it took the pandemic to put the field on people’s radar. Industry officials estimate there are now at least 50,000 traveling nurses, up from about 30,000 in 2018.

Some of those are independent nurses, typically young and footloose, who make a living stringing together travel assignments, which typically last 13 weeks but sometimes go shorter or longer. But some of the nurses are lured from hospitals.

In the early days of the pandemic, travel assignments took traveling nurses to crisis spots — particularly New York. No one questioned the phenomenon because the need was so much greater in those areas than anywhere else.

What’s different now is that the winter COVID-19 surge has brought the need for nurses across the country. Hospital officials routinely use the phrase “rob Peter to pay Paul” to describe the distribution of nurses.

“It’s cutthroat,” said Kristie Loescher, faculty director of the University of Texas’ Healthcare Innovation Initiative. “But it’s what you get when you have a perfect storm of a staffing crisis and a pandemic. Given those supply and demand issues, companies are going to charge what the market will bear.”

On of nurses pour into Texas to help fight second COVID surge

The demand took five Harris Health nurses to travel assignments in El Paso during the recent surge there.

Padilla said Texas jobs are appealing to Houston nurses because the deals are lucrative and they’re closer to home, which enables easier connections with family.

The Houston competition for nurses increasingly involves hospitals within the state — or the Houston region itself, where the recruitee doesn’t have to leave family at all. Padilla acknowledges Harris Health itself has used agencies that may have recruited locally.

Padilla said Harris Health will rehire those nurses who took a travel assignment as long as they gave the expected two-week notice. That’s not always a slam dunk inasmuch as many staffing agencies require immediate starting dates. If the nurse abruptly leaves for such a job, Harris Health will not rehire for at least a year, she said.

Padilla said it would be “demoralizing to the staff that remained loyal and committed to the hospital to see the recently departed nurse right back on the unit.” It is likely of little concern to the nurse, said Padilla — he or she will have no trouble finding a willing hospital.

For some nurses, the idea of travel assignments is very enticing.

“Ever since I heard about them in nursing school, travel assignments were on my mind,” said Caroline DeWitt, who started her second such job, in Colorado Springs, Colo., on the day the original pandemic lockdown went into effect. “I’m an adventurous soul so the idea of traveling to different places to do my job sounded great, even apart from the additional money.”

In the summer, DeWitt took an assignment at Texas Children’s, working with both pediatric COVID-19 patients and adults transferred from hospitals unable to handle the influx. She was tempted to stay, she said, but she’d just bought a house in the Texas Hill Country, where she began working, remotely, for Trusted Health, the staffing agency that moved her to different travel assignments.

Now a nurse advocate who helps facilitate others’ assignments, she laughs that she’s “missing out on the level of pay packages now being offered.”

Kathryn Tart, founding dean of the University of Houston College of Nursing, argues there’s nothing wrong with the pay levels, given that nurses are “putting their lives on the line.” She said hospitals would have less of a shortage problem if they had just been hiring more nursing graduates all along.

Still, there are no shortage of ill feelings at hospitals. John Henderson, CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, says the state’s assistance kept some member hospitals “from buckling from staffing shortages,” but fretted that many are now losing nurses because they can’t compete with the amounts being offered. He called it unsustainable.

The Texas Hospital Association fielded enough complaints from its member hospital about agencies recruiting away front-line employees that Krucial Staffing issued a response in December saying it “doesn’t advertise, actively recruit and attempt to or knowingly employ healthcare workers from impacted facilities and intends only to supplement existing hospital staff. The response did not define “impact facilities.”

The hospital association sent the response to its members, but spokeswoman Carrie Williams said that despite the assurance, the practice appears to be continuing.

“The problem is that hospitals don’t have a lot of choice when you have patients that need care and a shortage of staff,” said Cindy Zolnierek, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association. “But it definitely does seem that some people are exploiting the moment.”

Gary Randazzo, a professor of practice and marketing at the UH Bauer College of Business, says there’s no evidence that wage and price controls or other means of intervention work in such situations. Nor is the Texas Legislature expected to take up the issue.

Loescher, the faculty director at UT’s healthcare innovation initiative, holds out hope. The only good thing that might come out of the situation, Loescher said, is people giving up on the idea that supply and demand works during a crisis and that health care moves more toward a social justice philosophy rather than a market justice focus.

She admits, however, she’s not optimistic. The most likely solution to the poaching is an end to the pandemic.

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2 hours agoKRUCIAL STAFFING, LLC (UBI# 604514164) is a corporation entity registered with Washington State Secretary of State. The business incorporation date is October 29, 2019. The principal address is 7240 W 98th Ter, Overland Park, KS 66212-2255.

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KRUCIAL STAFFING, LLC · 7240 W 98th Ter, Overland Park, KS

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Are there any benefits at krucial staffing company?

No job security, no benefits, depending on what team you are on the management could be horrendous, client information is NOT secure, family emergencies are not important to the company. Was this review helpful? Krucial Staffing is a great place to work for anyone who does not need benefits. Pay rate is great but they offer no benefits.

How much does a krucial staffer make per week?

Average Krucial Staffing hourly pay ranges from approximately $14.13 per hour for Direct Care Worker to $95.00 per hour for Registered Nurse - Emergency Room. Average Krucial Staffing weekly pay ranges from approximately $2,475 per week for Arborist to $3,975 per week for Forester.

What makes krucial staffing an emergency response company?

Krucial Staffing was born out of the need for a staffing company that understands the unique demands of emergency and disaster staffing. Together, our team brings a decade worth of experience within the response and recovery sector and has responded to some of the nation’s most notable border crises and disasters.

How to contact krucial staffing for media inquiries?

Please follow our Facebook Page for both clinical and non-clinical staffing needs at any location requiring urgent assistance or long-term recovery support. For any media inquiries, please contact Media Relations @ [email protected] to schedule interviews or receive additional images or resources.

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DENVER — In March, Claire Tripeny was watching her dream job fall apart. She’d been working as an intensive care nurse at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, Colo., and loved it, despite the mediocre pay typical for the region.

But when COVID-19 hit, that calculation changed.

She remembers her employers telling her and her colleagues to “suck it up” as they struggled to care for six patients each and patched their protective gear with tape until it fully fell apart. The $800 or so a week she took home no longer felt worth it.

“I was not sleeping and having the most anxiety in my life,” Tripeny said. “I’m like, ‘I’m gonna go where my skills are needed and I can be guaranteed that I have the protection I need.’ ”

In April, she packed her bags for a two-month contract in then-COVID-19 hot spot New Jersey, as part of what she called a “mass exodus” of nurses leaving the suburban Denver hospital to become traveling nurses. Her new pay? About $5,200 a week, and with a contract that required adequate protective gear.

Months later, the offerings — and the stakes — are even higher for nurses willing to move. In Sioux Falls, S.D., nurses can make more than $6,200 a week. A recent posting for a job in Fargo, N.D., offered more than $8,000 a week. Some can get as much as $10,000.

Early in the pandemic, hospitals were competing for ventilators, COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment. Now sites across the country are competing for nurses. The fall surge in COVID-19 cases has turned hospital staffing into a sort of national bidding war, with hospitals willing to pay exorbitant wages to secure the nurses they need. That threatens to shift the supply of nurses toward more affluent areas, leaving rural and urban public hospitals short-staffed as the pandemic worsens, and some hospitals unable to care for critically ill patients.

“That is a huge threat,” said Angelina Salazar, CEO of the Western Healthcare Alliance, a consortium of 29 small hospitals in rural Colorado and Utah. “There’s no way rural hospitals can afford to pay that kind of salary.”

Intense competition

Hospitals have long relied on traveling nurses to fill gaps in staffing without committing to long-term hiring. Early in the pandemic, doctors and nurses traveled from unaffected areas to hot spots like California, Washington state and New York to help with regional surges.

But now, with virtually every part of the country experiencing a surge — infecting medical professionals in the process — the competition for the finite number of available nurses is becoming more intense.

“We all thought, ‘Well, when it’s Colorado’s turn, we’ll draw on the same resources; we’ll call our surrounding states and they’ll send help,’ " said Julie Lonborg, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Hospital Association. “Now it’s a national outbreak. It’s not just one or two spots as it was in the spring. It’s really significant across the country, which means everybody is looking for those resources.”

In North Dakota, Tessa Johnson said she’s getting multiple messages a day on LinkedIn from headhunters. Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, said the pandemic appears to be hastening a brain drain of nurses there. She suspects more nurses may choose to leave or retire early after North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum told health care workers they could stay on the job even if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

All four of Utah’s major health care systems have seen nurses leave for traveling nurse positions, said Jordan Sorenson, a project manager for the Utah Hospital Association. “Nurses quit, join traveling nursing companies and go work for a different hospital down the street, making two to three times the rate,” he said. “So it’s really a kind of a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul staffing situation.”

Hospitals not only pay the higher salaries offered to traveling nurses but also pay a commission to the traveling nurse agency, Sorenson said. Utah hospitals are trying to avoid hiring away nurses from other hospitals within the state. Hiring from a neighboring state like Colorado, though, could mean Colorado hospitals would poach from Utah.

“In the wake of the current spike in COVID hospitalizations, calling the labor market for registered nurses ‘cutthroat’ is an understatement,” said Adam Seth Litwin, an associate professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University. “Even if the health care sector can somehow find more beds, it cannot just go out and buy more front-line caregivers.”

Litwin said he’s glad to see the labor market rewarding essential workers — disproportionately women and people of color — with higher wages. Under normal circumstances, allowing markets to determine where people will work and for what pay is ideal.

“On the other hand, we are not operating under normal circumstances,” he said. “In the midst of a severe public health crisis, I worry that the individual incentives facing hospitals on the one side and individual RNs on the other conflict sharply with the needs of society as a whole.”

Some hospitals are exploring ways to overcome staffing challenges without blowing the budget. That could include changing nurse-to-patient ratios, although that would likely affect patient care.

In Utah, the hospital association has talked with the state nursing board about allowing nursing students in their final year of training to be certified early.

Growth industry

Meanwhile, business is booming for companies centered on health care staffing such as Wanderly and Krucial Staffing.

“When COVID first started and New York was an epicenter, we at Wanderly kind of looked at it and said, ‘OK, this is our time to shine,’ " said David Deane, senior vice president of Wanderly, a website that allows health care professionals to compare offers from various agencies. " ‘This is our time to help nurses get to these destinations as fast as possible. And help recruiters get those nurses.’ "

Deane said the company has doubled its staff since the pandemic started. Demand is surging — with Rocky Mountain states appearing in up to 20 times as many job postings on the site as in January. And more people are meeting that demand. In 2018, according to data from a national survey, about 31,000 traveling nurses worked nationwide. Now, Deane estimated, there are at least 50,000 traveling nurses.

Deane, who calls traveling nurses “superheroes,” suspects a lot of them are postoperative nurses who were laid off when their hospitals stopped doing elective surgeries during the first lockdowns.

Competition for nurses, especially those with ICU experience, is stiff. After all, a hospital in South Dakota isn’t competing just with facilities in other states. “We’ve sent nurses to Aruba, the Bahamas and Curacao because they’ve needed help with COVID,” said Deane. “You’re going down there, you’re making $5,000 a week and all your expenses are paid, right? Who’s not gonna say yes?”

Krucial Staffing specializes in sending health care workers to disaster locations, using military-style logistics. It filled hotels and rented dozens of buses to get nurses to hot spots in New York and Texas. CEO Brian Cleary said that since the pandemic started, the company has expanded its administrative staff from 12 to more than 200.

“Right now, we’re at our highest volume we’ve been,” said Cleary, who added that over Halloween weekend alone, about 1,000 nurses joined the roster of “reservists.”

$95 an hour — with tradeoffs

With a base rate of $95 an hour, he said, some nurses working overtime end up coming away with $10,000 a week, though there are downsides — like the fact that the gig doesn’t come with health insurance and it’s an unstable, boom-and-bust market.

Amber Hazard, who lives in Texas, started as a traveling ICU nurse before the pandemic and said eye-catching sums like that come with a hidden fee, paid in sanity. “How your soul is affected by this is nothing you can put a price on,” she said.

At a high-paying job caring for COVID-19 patients during New York’s first wave, she remembers walking into the break room in a hospital in the Bronx and seeing a sign on the wall about how the usual staff nurses were on strike.

“It said, you know, ‘We’re not doing this. This is not safe,’ " said Hazard. “And it wasn’t safe. But somebody had to do it.”

The highlight of her stint there was placing a wedding ring back on the finger of a recovered patient. But Hazard said she secured far more body bags than rings on patients.

Tripeny, the traveling nurse who left Colorado, is now working in Kentucky with heart surgery patients. When that contract wraps up, she said, she might dive back into COVID-19 care. Earlier, in New Jersey, she was scarred by the times she couldn’t give people the care they needed, not to mention the times she would take a deceased patient off a ventilator, staring down the damage the virus can do as she removed tubes filled with blackened blood from the lungs.

She has to pay for mental health therapy out-of-pocket now, unlike when she was on staff at a hospital. But as a so-called traveler, she knows each gig will be over in a matter of weeks.

At the end of each week in New Jersey, she said, “I would just look at my paycheck and be like, ‘OK. This is OK. I can do this.’ "


Nurse Bounties: How Recruitment Agencies Profit From the Pandemic by Auctioning Healthcare Workers to the Highest Bidder

Blocks away from the Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk, Zachary listens to the humming of the refrigerated trucks-turned-morgues parked outside the hospital where he works, counting the growing number of dead. Was it 16 yesterday? Or was that last week? The contours of time melt away when you’ve worked 17 consecutive 12-hour shifts, but then again, much of Zachary’s 84-hour work week is spent trafficking in uncertainties. 

Like thousands of travel nurses, a type of short-term-contracted health-care worker trained to mobilize during a national crisis, he doesn’t know what will happen with any of the COVID patients he sees on a daily basis. Nor does he know what will happen to him after reusing the same N95 mask and bunny suit five days in a row. 

He’s tired, but he knows at the very least that he’s helping. “I’ve never worked this many 12-hour shifts in a row or anywhere near it, but I have the skill set to be of service,” Zachary, a pseudonym, says. “I’ve learned from my uncle who’s a Navy Seal that you’ve just got to compartmentalize and keep moving forward, not letting what we see or the chaos drag you down in the process.” True to form, Zachary is nearly dogmatic about having a positive outlook. After all, when you’re walking the edge of a cliff, the last thing you want to do is look down. 

The money helps too. On average, graduate nursing students finish school about $40,000 to $55,000 in debt, the American College of Nursing reports. Zachary, who was nearly $200,000 in student debt last year, couldn’t turn down the chance to make $30,000 in just three weeks. If anything, it seemed too good to be true when robo-calls and all-caps texts from the travel nursing recruitment agency Krucial Staffing started rolling in the first week of March, reading “THE TIME HAS COME TO DEPLOY AT INCREDIBLY HIGH PAY RATES. THIS IS A LONG TEXT, READ IT ALL.” 

He was staffed full-time at a “much better facility” in California, but Krucial’s proposed payday was enough for him to repeatedly call the agency and endure hours of busy signals just to get an interview, then fly across the country within 36 hours to the epicenter of the virus, without anything in writing. Krucial CEO Brian Cleary admits that although they try to send paperwork over electronically within 24 hours of the initial phone pitch, some eager nurses might get on a plane before that happens. “It depends,” Cleary, a former ER nurse and travel nurse himself, tells us. “We send over 4,000 people, so I can’t say exactly when they land and when they get their DocuSign, but we typically send it within 24 hours.”

Zachary was scared, but he never questioned whether or not to get on that plane. He assumed there would be plenty of nurses waiting through busy signals, ready to take his place if he wavered. 

And while 30 grand may seem like a lot for less than a month of labor, compared to the price for his life, it’s a tragically cheap bounty. CDC officials suggest health-care workers account for 11 percent of all coronavirus cases, while the number of deaths remains a mystery, despite President Trump promising he would release the data. National Nurses United, however, says at least 48 of them have died from coronavirus. 

Yet as the death toll rises, so too do recruitment agencies’ rates. Nurses in New Jersey could land $6,600 a week; those in Chicago, $4,100 a week. Zachary’s contract to work 21 days at a hospital in Brooklyn was for $10,000 a week. More generally, Krucial’s 21-day contract nurses get paid $95 per hour for 40 hours a week, time and a half for an additional 44 hours a week, as well as a $76 daily food allowance and a one-time $600 travel stipend. During past deployments like Hurricane Sandy, agencies have offered around $5,000 to $7,000 a week, Cleary estimates. As a point of comparison, nurses who have less than five years experience make $29.62 per hour on average. 

“We’ve done hurricanes, border crises, all kinds of events, but nothing compared to this,” Cleary says. “When we were activating for New York, we were rostering roughly 500 nurses in four hours, which is unbelievable.”

Recruitment agencies like Krucial have sprouted up to do the recruiting and hiring for hospitals ever since New Orleans needed extra nurses to help in the ER during Mardi Gras in 1978. Though this was supposed to be a short-term fix, hospitals found great benefit in hiring nurses as independent contractors during national disasters like Hurricane Harvey, the California wildfires and now the COVID-19 crisis, because it’s better for their bottom line. They don’t have to guarantee health benefits or even stable employment to these nurses, whose contracts hospitals can cancel whenever they want. 

At their side, travel nursing agencies function as the middleman, brokering these deals and taking their cut from the nurse’s paycheck, which may explain why the median salary for a nurse recruiter is higher than that of the nurses they recruit. “Different companies want to get contracts from that hospital so they get a percentage,” says Shannon, a 27-year-old travel nurse from North Carolina. (Shannon is also a pseudonym; all the names of the nurses quoted throughout have been changed due to their fear of reprisal from agencies.) “That’s how recruiters make money. It’s a whole hustle.” 

For the most part, nurses are fine with the system. Travel nursing isn’t for everyone, but particularly for younger nurses who want experience, or those who value pay over benefits, the inherent instability of living contract to contract while bouncing around different cities isn’t a dealbreaker. 

The bigger problem is that nurses of all stripes can’t rely on the health-care system or a union to protect them — only 20.4 percent of all nurses belong to unions, typically of the regional variety as there is no overarching national nurses union, and exclusively from permanent salaried positions. The reason why their organizing efforts haven’t been more effective is that many nurses aren’t willing to compromise patient care by picketing. Moreover, when strikes do happen, the highest paid travel nurses, known pejoratively as “scab nurses,” fill in for protesting nurses, weakening their collective leverage as health-care workers overall. 

“They call it crossing the line, or the picket out front. The travel nurses have to walk through that, and they do get a lot of hate,” explains Shannon, who worked as a scab nurse two years ago in Vermont at a hospital she wouldn’t disclose. “It’s not violent, but there’s a lot of animosity.” 

Picketing nurses are understandably angry about how much scabs make, while they have their pay docked. That said, Shannon claims the hostility is much worse for the permanent nurses who chose to work during the strike because there’s already an existing relationship there, making things personal. To that end, hospitals put a lot of resources into talking nurses out of organizing and breaking up unions. 

“The main obstacle to nurses trying to unionize is the union-busting industry, which is very active in health care,” explains Rebecca Givan, professor of labor studies and co-director of the Rutgers Center for Work and Health. When there is a threat of a strike, most hospitals will hire consulting firms to send out mass anti-union emails, distribute anti-union materials in break rooms, hold mandatory anti-union meetings, and of course, threaten nurses engaging in organizing activity by calling security on them.

As such, hospitals end up spending upwards of $11 million to combat strikes, instead of footing the more affordable bill to meet nurses’ demands, despite the fact that multiplestudiesconfirm that accommodating unionizing nurses yields better patient outcomes. “Most health-care employers spend thousands of dollars per employee when nurses attempt to organize a union,” Givan says.

In fairness, it’s difficult to blame travel nurses for taking these positions and doing what they have to do to pay their bills and take care of their families. Shannon, for instance, is a single mom who got into travel nursing when she got divorced. “North Carolina doesn’t allow for legal separation until you’re outside of the home,” she tells us. “So travel nursing allowed me to move out while we figured out our mortgage and custody.” Nevertheless, they, too, are set up to work without a third party that could advocate for benefits, safer working conditions and review the precarious fine print in the crisis contracts, like the one Zachary says he didn’t get to see until he flew across the country. 

Throughout his entire three-week deployment, Zachary receives one paid sick day. If he tests positive for coronavirus, however, he will get two weeks paid to quarantine in a hotel, the bill footed by the agency. It’s unclear, though, if Krucial’s health benefits would extend further if he were to suffer complications beyond those two weeks, which many people do; consequently, he pays out-of-pocket for his own health insurance. 

Also, nowhere in the 18 pages of the 21-day crisis contract from Krucial, which was provided anonymously to us,is personal protective equipment, or PPE (masks, gloves and gowns), guaranteed. (It is, however, promised in their job listings.) Instead, it notes that “employees should follow OSHA and their client facility’s policies and procedures” when it comes to protective equipment and gear.

Krucial’s website goes as far as to say “you won’t be asked to work without it,” but Zachary admits that he had to solicit donations independently to get adequate protection. “I went to social media and just told people my situation, and luckily, they donated a bunch of PPE so I can have fresh gear everyday.” (The terms and conditions of the contract does cover jewelry, name tags and even what type of nails nurses are allowed to have — hint: not acrylic.) 

Cleary repeatedly claimed that Krucial nurses don’t have to work without PPE, but when we ask why it wasn’t guaranteed in their contracts, he hedges: “We don’t provide PPE; we never have. We’re a staffing agency, so we provide people. That’s pretty standard.”

Still, the pay is so competitive, it makes it difficult to negotiate things like PPE, health insurance and sick days. “If you tried to negotiate, I’m sure they’d just decline and there’d be hundreds of nurses in line behind me ready to take my spot,” Zachary says. Krucial’s reservist list and Facebook page are flooded with posts from nurses begging to work, speaking to this cutthroat environment. It’s also worth noting that despite the crush of COVID patients, thousands of nurses in departments like the OR are being laid off because non-essential surgeries and appointments have been put on hold.

“Krucial didn’t have to do any advertising, they sent a mass text to tons of nurses right when everyone was being laid off,” says Gregory Antollino, an attorney representing three nurses who are suing Krucial. “So people couldn’t get through even to apply for a job, and now they’re acting as if ‘everyone wants us, we don’t give a shit if you don’t get PPE, you should just go home.’” Antollino’s lawsuit argues that the recruitment agency has been “profiteering from the crisis, putting nurses’ lives at risk and making promises that its CEO knew he couldn’t keep.” 

Cleary dismisses these accusations as hearsay. “I always say 95 percent, but probably closer to 98 percent of people we send are like, ‘When can I go on the next one? This was awesome.’ But there are always a few people who aren’t happy for whatever reason,” he says. 

Within the complaint, the plaintiffs (one travel nurse, and two non-travel nurses) allege the company, among other things, lures nurses in with mass texts, phone calls and posts on social media with promises they don’t keep. Krucial “takes in close to double what it pays its workers,” the complaint reads, “[while subjecting] unsuspecting nurses to physical harm by requiring work without proper protective gear [and requiring] them to work outside of their fields of competence.” 

In response, Cleary defers to a statement from Krucial’s legal team:

“Krucial Staffing vehemently denies recent claims made in the media related to a lawsuit that has been filed. We would like nothing more than to comment and defend our company from these false allegations, but since this is a legal matter we are unable to do so right now on the advice of counsel. 

“We clearly communicate to all our healthcare staff that we do not want them to start any shift if they do not have all the proper protective equipment they need. Krucial Staffing will continue to serve the medical professionals we are so fortunate to work with as we all strive to play a small role in winning this battle against COVID-19.” 

Still, Zachary believes he’s got the best nursing gig out there right now, as at least it comes close to compensating him for the dangers he faces. “You have to look out for yourself. The hospital definitely isn’t, and the agency is only going to do the minimum,” he explains. On Day 21, he extended his Krucial contract and declined to speak to us any further, citing that he wanted to “focus on his work.”

“Bigger risks mean bigger rewards,” says Mike, a 32-year-old ICU nurse in West Texas who quit his job and called one of the many recruitment firms who had contacted him about flying to New York. Mike is currently serving a 48-hour per week contract at a New York hospital for $6,000 a week through an agency he didn’t disclose, but says is not Krucial. (There are numerous others such as Faststaff, Nomad Health and Aya.) Before, Mike was making about $2,000 per week. “The risk was always there with COVID, and being an ICU nurse, I was going to have to deal with this at some point in time,” he says. “I figured I might as well be paid for it and social distance from my family at the same time.” 

As for what recruiters are looking for, Melissa, a nurse in Minnesota who also traveled to New York, says, “They typically require you to have at least two years experience in your specialty so that you can hit the ground running when you get to your assignment.” But after being recruited on LinkedIn by an agency she doesn’t feel comfortable disclosing, she found the headhunters were only requiring one year, “and stated that it didn’t matter what specialty you have.” 

“In the world of nursing, one year is still considered to be extremely novice,” she continues. “I reiterated to everyone I spoke to in this process that I don’t have medical hospital experience. I was told along the way that this wouldn’t be an issue, that they would provide training, and that I’d likely be assigned to a role that used my specialty and skills anyway. This didn’t happen.” 

When Melissa arrived at the hospital in New York, she asked her team lead what she and other nurses not trained in this specific setting should do, only to be told, “Well, you’re gonna have to learn really quickly.” “In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been surprising to me,” she says. “They did no employer reference checks, no interviews, nothing. It was basically like, ‘Can you leave on 24 hours notice, and do you have anywhere you refuse to go? Okay, good, you’re hired!’” 

Cleary concedes that Melissa’s experience isn’t unique. “I’m sure in a crisis that’s happened, but nurses shouldn’t ever engage in a procedure they’re not comfortable with,” he says. He’s quick to add, however: “A lot of nurses have heroically gone outside of that and done what they had to do.”

Ultimately, Melissa returned to Minnesota before her shift started. Had she stayed, the conditions would have been grim, but still better than they are for staff nurses, who suffer the same risk for less than $30 an hour. “We aren’t getting hazard pay or bonuses,” says Chelsea, an ICU staff nurse just outside of New York City. “I don’t make any more than I ever did before. I’m risking my life by going into these rooms with inadequate PPE. But they won’t pay me for the extra threat, and if I die from this, my family only gets the death benefits that I’d already selected back in November.” 

Several months ago, Chelsea spent $180 on hazmat suits, a half-mask respirator, goggles and a face shield in preparation for when her hospital completely runs out. “I’m 100 percent okay with working in a COVID ward, but I will never work without PPE,” she tells us. 

“We’re all having to reuse what are supposed to be single-use masks,” adds Ginger, a travel nurse from Georgia who is working with a Krucial competitor and nearing the end of her 21-day contract in New York. “There are essentially no rules, but knowing how deep this connects to our deeply fucked-up and corrupt health-care system, it doesn’t surprise me.”

It might make the public feel good, but these nurses need a lot more than 7 p.m. applause breaks and Facebook commercials calling them heroes. “We feel abandoned by nearly everyone,” Chelsea says. “We’ve had our tires slashed, been yelled at, assaultedand stabbed because we went grocery shopping in scrubs. We’re trying our best to do what we can, but honestly, some days it feels like we’ve been thrown under the bus and run over and left for dead.” 

“Don’t worry though,” she adds sarcastically, “we’ll get a pizza party for Nurses Week.” 

After putting a lot of thought into her options, then, Shannon has decided it isn’t worth any amount of money to keep working as a nurse during the pandemic because she’s immunosuppressed and has a young son. But after more than five years in travel and permanent positions, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. Like many nurses who want to use their training for the greater good, she never imagined having to think about a different career — and per a recent survey of 1,300 nurses from 400 hospitals in the U.S., this sentiment is quickly becoming a massive problem. 

Three out of five nurses responded that they’re “likely to leave their position or specialty as a result of their experience with coronavirus,” and 67 percent of respondents “will either leave their current facility or quit the industry altogether.” These numbers come on the precipice of a nursing shortage that was expected to happen before coronavirus even happened. “The U.S. was already projected to have a shortfall of over 1 million nurses by 2022, due mainly to waves of Baby Boomer-era nurses aging out of the nursing workforce,” explains Darrell Spurlock Jr., the director of theLeadership Center for Nursing Education Research atWidener University in Pennsylvania.

Any fix won’t be cheap. Analysts predict an exodus of nurses due to coronavirus could cost the U.S. an additional $88 billion to $137 billion. “For too long nurses have had to bear the brunt of this health-care system, and now we’re being forced to decide whether or not we want to stay in it at all,” Shannon says. “And I think we’re going to lose a lot of good people.”

“It’s all a big money-making scam,” Chelsea adds. “Profits mean more to hospital CEOs than patients or the staff, and nothing will change until that focus reverses, because it can’t be both.” In the meantime, she says, “It’s created a horrible work environment that grinds nurses down like grain on a millstone. It’s soul-sucking and demoralizing.” 

There are some steps lawmakers could take to prevent a nursing shortage. “Many hospitals have cut down on the number of ancillary staff available such as patient care techs and secretaries. This means that nurses often end up doing three jobs at once,” Chelsea says. So to start, “we need safe [nurse-to-patient] staffing ratios, adequate and safe PPE, hazard pay for taking care of COVID-19 patients and a student loan forgiveness grant.” 

After that, she’d like to see some accountability. The same goes for Ginger, who hopes that, if anything, that’s the silver lining in the hell that she and her fellow nurses are currently suffering through. “I feel like this might be the Achilles’ heel of our current state of health care, and that there may be huge shifts in the future — hopefully, in the altruistic direction.”

Lauren Vinopal

Lauren Vinopal is a writer and stand-up comedian based out of New York City, who writes mostly about health, science and men. She is the host of the Mid Riff Comedy Show in Brooklyn, a frequent podcast guest all over, and lives the life of a teen who looks like they haven’t slept in years.

Quinn Myers

Quinn Myers is a staff writer at MEL. He reports on internet culture, technology, health, masculinity and the communities that flourish within.


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