Carlos Abisambra shares how important housing is in staffing nurses.

Travel nurses have been integral to the pandemic response from the very beginning. Today, amid economic uncertainty and an ongoing nursing shortage, their importance in the greater healthcare landscape remains the same. Regardless of larger market conditions, dedicated healthcare professionals will continue to do important work in communities across the country. Perhaps the pay-boom of the early pandemic is waning, but a critical nomadic workforce dedicated to improving patient outcomes and caring for those in need deserves support. As their wages make headlines, healthcare professionals still face disparity in sourcing adequate housing. Oftentimes responsibility to find housing has fallen on nurses themselves or the staffing firms that recruit them. Firms often leverage housing specialists because placing multiple nurses at once is challenging and time consuming. Additionally, some hospital systems have opted to explore in-house travel nursing programs as a way to more directly recruit nurses

Housing is a complex space requiring a high degree of creativity. There are a number of decision points across the selection process, and without concrete, tested experience healthcare systems can run the risk of under-serving nomadic employees. Realizing the best possible housing experience should be the guiding principle for the hospital or health system adopting some form of internal housing support, in addition to partnerships with third-party specialists. Providing travel nurses with a sense of home is paramount to these efforts. Operationalizing this kind of housing structure, however, is an involved process that should be taken seriously. Providers in need of ways to better accommodate traveling nurses should explore the following strategies.

Maintaining creativity

The travel industry was one of the first to sustain the impact of the pandemic. Ingenuity and creativity supported a number of organizations through those early months. As nurses responded to spikes in Covid cases, and the housing market fluctuated, housing providers were met with an imperative: Accommodate traveling healthcare professionals to support the pandemic response. People, processes, and partnerships were put to the test, and the knowledge base specific to housing established by that experience is not something all current providers have access to. At first glance, housing may seem like a relatively simple process. Organizing accommodations on a larger scale is as much a logistical process as it is a creative one. Nurses have to go where the need is, which at times can place them in areas with limited, or nearly-nonexistent, inventory. Do you have access to the right tools? The ability to adjust on a moment’s notice? The combination of these factors cannot be easily met by every housing solution.

Attention to detail

From utilities like internet, to furniture, to lease terms, to location-specific needs, the level of coordination a short-term stay requires is immense. The average length of assignment for a travel nurse is just 13 weeks. Housing markets are variable across the country, and healthcare systems are located in rural and metropolitan areas with differing housing inventories. If health systems hope to take on the level of movement and logistics associated with short-term housing, they’ll need to be prepared.

Sourcing candidates with prior housing experience is a must, and weathering adaptability when organizing stays will better serve traveling nurses, whose variable needs cannot always be met by more traditional means of corporate housing or by vacation rental properties. Customizing these stays is integral to providing comfortable accommodations. Health systems need to ask, do we have reliable vendor partners? What level of flexibility are we able to provide

The structure of these kinds of internal travel nursing programs have yet to be solidified across the industry. As more programs have launched, however, some healthcare systems have indicated reimbursement for lodging will be a primary means of supporting nurses with housing. While this may work for healthcare systems with locations grouped in relatively close proximity, what about more distributed networks? If this structure is based on the distance a nurse will need to travel to qualify, what kind of additional burden does that place on healthcare professionals? In addition to any reimbursement policies, what kind of resources are healthcare systems prepared to offer travel nurses?

Ultimately, how providers navigate internal travel nursing programs is at their discretion. However, awareness of the tensions within the housing space will better guide support of incoming nurses. Determining the path forward will require creativity, an attention to detail, and the infrastructure to provide traveling professionals with resources to make informed decisions surrounding housing. Accommodations for a temporary assignment are more than just a place to stay, they’re a place to feel at home.

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