Some smaller hospitals see nurses leave for higher pay, perks elsewhere

HOUSTON – More than a year into the pandemic, a doctor at Houston’s United Memorial Medical Center said some of his nurses have left for higher-paying jobs.

“Sometimes it’s very difficult to compete with these I call them, ‘ridiculous amount of money,’ that they’re offering elsewhere,” said Dr. Joseph Varon, the chief of COVID-19 and critical care.

As the demand for nurses grows, Varon said smaller community hospitals are struggling to keep up with pay and perks offered by larger hospitals or staffing agencies.

“It’s difficult to be able to pay that kind of wages when are dealing with a lot of uninsured patients and you are trying to provide them with the best possible medical care,” Varon said.

Kristine Gerlich, a chief nursing officer at Liberty Dayton Regional Medical Center, said ten nurses have left since last year to make more money elsewhere.

“The bigger hospitals are able to offer large sign-on bonuses whereas little facilities like us, we can’t,” Gerlich said.

While her medical center offers a sign-on bonus of $3,000, she said bigger hospitals in the region are offering more than three times that amount.

Emily Ashworth, an ICU nurse at a local facility, said from her experience, pay is usually the reason nurses leave smaller hospitals.

“They look at ‘Hey, I have this going on. It would be a blessing for me to be able to go over and do this,’” said Ashworth.

While she understands smaller places may not have the budget, she also defended the higher wages nurses can earn nowadays.

“We take risks when we take care of COVID patients,” Ashworth said. “Not only that, it’s a heavier load. Some facilities don’t have the support for nurses that others have.”

Gerlich said filling the positions came with challenges even before COVID-19 but the pandemic has made the situation more difficult.

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