When COVID-19 Cases Surge, Traveling Nurses Are Ready to Go on Short Notice

In the worst of times, traveling nurses provide much-needed help to ease the strain on health care systems in crisis.

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Hospitals in Southern California are calling on a resource they relied on at the start of the pandemic to ease the strain on the region's hospitals and health care workers.

Traveling nurses go where they’re needed when COVID-19 cases surge. They deploy on short notice, often for weeks at a time, to the frontlines of the pandemic.

Grover Street is a traveling nurse from Colorado who was deployed to Southern California to help ease the strain as the region’s case counts and hospitalizations explode. He has already been in New Jersey, New York and Miami.

This week, Street has been helping in Kern County, staying in a camper between shifts. 

“These patients are so critical right now, that it’s really one-to-one nursing care is required,” Street said. “But we’re really having to take care of three patients that should only have one nurse.”

The surge in hospitalizations reduces the availability of intensive care unit beds, but also places unprecedented demands on hospital staff members. That’s where nurses like Street come in.

The nurses can make upwards of $7,000 to $8,000 per week, but that’s not why Street devotes so much of his time and energy to his assignments.

 “It does take a special person to be a nurse,” he said. “We do a hard job.”

Street had a mild case of COVID-19 a few weeks ago. He returned to the job as soon as he could. 

Fastaff ICU Travel estimates that about 10 percent of its nurses are working in California. The nation’s most populous state has regularly set daily records for newly reported cases and deaths as hospitals scramble to keep up. 

In Los Angeles County, where it’s estimated that two people are dying of COVID-19 every hour, there are about 2,500 ICU beds. The county will likely need far more within a month.

Southern California and the Central Valley, which make up 23 counties, had exhausted their regular supply of ICU beds and using surge capacity to respond to the unrelenting rise in hospitalizations.

The state is averaging more than 35,000 new cases per day. About 12 percent of them (4,200) end up in hospitals, according to health officials. 

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