Smiling female healthcare worker driving car seen through windshield

Many traveling nurses who rode a wave of sky-high wages on robust need during the COVID-19 pandemic are experiencing a cruel crash landing. According to a report from Kaiser Health News, demand for traveling nurses fell by a third in the month leading up to April 10. However, since then there has been a slight uptick.

The report said nurses have had assignments canceled as they were en route to them. Meanwhile, some who are still able to get contract work are finding the pay being offered is half of what it was a few months ago.

Requests for nurses soared during the pandemic as COVID-19 patients overran hospitals, and the virus sidelined many nurses working for hospitals, home health agencies and hospices. But as the pandemic eased and state and federal COVID-19 relief dollars dried up in recent weeks, demand for traveling nurses petered out as well.

At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, many home care agencies relied heavily on contract labor. Home care and hospice giants Amedisys and Encompass said increased costs from contract nurses eroded profits in the first quarter. Those firms also reported that demand for traveling nurses started falling in late February as fewer staff nurses were being quarantined. 

Still, demand for registered nurses remains historically high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the United States will need to add approximately 222,000 additional nurses to the 3 million it already has by the end of the decade.