COVID-19 vaccine mandates could hurt already short-staffed Phoenix hospitals

Nurses across the country are under great pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are choosing to leave their profession and patients behind, causing hospital staffing shortages in Arizona.

This comes as COVID-19 vaccine mandates start to take effect over the coming weeks.

"We're short nurses. It's very uncommon for me to walk into work in the last three weeks or so and to be fully staffed. It's very common to be understaffed in the emergency department, intensive care unit, or the regular floor," said Dr. Frank LoVecchio.

LoVecchio is Arizona State University's medical director of clinical and community translational research at its College of Health Solutions. He specializes in medical toxicology.

Signing bonuses being offered to fill the gap

Some companies, including Tenet Healthcare, are offering signing bonuses for nurses.

Tenet has a job posting offering an additional $20,000 for new hires.

Many hospitals are also offering bonuses and high paychecks for nurses who agree to relocate.

Many Phoenix-area hospitals, LoVecchio explains, simply can't keep up.

"The difficulty is, it's hard to keep somebody for just loyalty. They might accept the fact that they want to stay with your hospital – they like the staff. But they're getting paid sometimes three times as much to work in another hospital just down the road and once you hit a certain number … it becomes more important to kind of make money. You can have a better quality of life," he said.

In December 2019, the average salary for a nurse was $1,600 per week. In December 2020, that number rose to $3,500, and now some travel nurses are getting as much as $7,500 a week.

"The wages we're seeing are some of the highest we have seen in Phoenix, as far as I know. And what's happening is people are coming from other states to work here and our nurses are going to other states to work," he explained.

He added, "If everybody just stayed here and we increased the salary here, we could solve some of these problems. But, unfortunately, it doesn't work like that."

As vaccine mandates go into effect soon in hospitals, LoVecchio says he doesn't think they're going to see a large number of nurses walk out, at least at Valleywise Health.

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