High pay for Covid-19 nurses leads to shortages in some hospitals

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Ivette Palomeque was earning $45 an hour on a flexible schedule as a staff nurse in the critical care unit at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston.

Today, she earns $120 an hour in an ICU in McAllen, Texas, the latest in a string of “travel nurse” jobs she’s had over the past 16 months. The trip has taken her from Miami to New York City and back to Texas.

She plans to work well-paid crisis contracts for as long as possible. Nurse pay may never be this good again, she said, and persistent understaffing means working conditions for nurses are unlikely to improve.

“Going back to a staff job is just not an option,” said Ms. Palomeque, 45. “Absolutely not.”

The pandemic has changed the job market for nurses and other medical personnel. As Covid-19 spread in the spring of 2020, filling emergency rooms with sick patients, thousands of hospital workers were drawn to skyrocketing wages and the opportunity to help hard-hit communities like New York City. Others left the profession after months of treating critically ill patients.