Lorenz said she has been pleasantly surprised by how many staff nurses decided to stay with UPMC through the new staffing program instead of going to an external agency and by those who have returned from an external agency.
Susan Myers left UPMC, where she had worked since 2013, early in the pandemic to become a travel nurse. She had been part of a local travel nursing program at UPMC, the precursor to what became its UPMC Travel Staffing, and wanted to give an external travel agency a try.
“They were obviously offering much higher salaries than what I was making on local contracts,” Myers said. “I wanted the flexibility of being able to travel at a distance if I wanted to and being more flexible in where I could go.”
For a year, she worked with four different agencies and traveled around Pennsylvania and Ohio. But when she saw UPMC’s ad for its new internal staffing agency in January, she signed up.
UPMC offered stable contracts, benefits, paid time off and a 401(k) plan with a matching component—all things she didn’t have through the other agency, she said. With an external agency, while she had freedom to choose where her next job would be, contracts weren’t always guaranteed and could be changed or canceled even after she accepted them.
“That was causing a lot of anxiety for me,” Myers said.
Under UPMC Travel Staffing, nurses are assigned six-week contracts at any site in the system’s footprint, which includes 40 hospitals in Pennsylvania and one each in New York and Maryland. UPMC pays a $2,880 travel allowance per assignment to anyone whose placement takes them more than 60 miles away from home.
UPMC also has revised how it compensates staff nurses, to reward them for staying with the system and not moving into its own travel program. For new nurses, that means a higher base salary that amounts to an additional $20,000 over the first four years, Lorenz said.
“It is probably the best thing we’ve ever done for our staff nurses,” she said.
Learn from your staff
Systems considering launching an internal staffing agency should reach out to nurse leaders and front-line nurses for input, Lorenz said. And they should “think creatively and be prepared to be flexible and nimble” as they evaluate what is and what isn’t working, she said.
In September, WellSpan Health, which operates in south central Pennsylvania, launched a system-wide travel staffing program called WellStaffed, and it will remain a “core strategy,” said Bob Batory, senior vice president and chief human resources officer. About 55 registered nurses are in the pool, as well as about a dozen nursing assistants, he said.