Hospitals seek to convince scores of traveling nurses to call Hawaii home

Hundreds of traveling nurses who have spent the past three months caring for Hawaii’s COVID patients will return to the mainland next week.
Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 1:46 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 3, 2021 at 4:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds of traveling nurses who have spent the past three months caring for Hawaii’s COVID patients will return to the mainland next week.

That means many local hospitals will again be left short-staffed.

It’s a problem that’s plagued Hawaii long before the pandemic. And in search of a solution, some facilities have managed to get those nurses to give up life on the road.

According to officials at the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, discussions are underway with about 100 traveling nurses ― either to extend their temporary contracts or to hire them permanently.

“They really helped us steady our ship and without them we couldn’t have done it,” said Hilo Medical Center Director of Public Affairs Elena Cabatu.

At the peak of Hawaii’s latest COVID surge, nearly 700 FEMA funded nurses were flown in from the continent and deployed to hospitals across the state.

Now some are being asked to make the islands home.

“Discussions are underway,” Cabatu said. “It’s all about the right fit.”

She says Hilo Medical Center is recruiting for 16 new nursing positions. They’re particularly looking for those who specialize in critical care.

On top of that, she says there are nearly two dozen recent graduates in training in the hospital’s nursing residency program.

“We’ve seen the stress and the strain that our nursing staff has been under during the last two years here,” Cabatu said. “We did see more nurses retire. More nurses leave the clinical areas ― so we’re hiring across the board.”

Hilo Medical Center is not alone.

According to the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, the Queen’s Health System and Hawaii Pacific Health are also trying to convince some of their travelers to stay.

“The hospitals have gotten to see how well they work, got to know them,” said association President and CEO Hilton Raethel. “Some nurses have already converted from the FEMA funded contract to the local hospital contract.”

Raethel says historically it’s been a challenge for Hawaii hospitals to hire experienced staff. Especially travelers who can make considerably more money moving place to place.

But he adds there are benefits to accepting a permanent position here.

“When you’re a traveler you don’t get sick leave. You don’t get paid leave. You don’t get a 401K,” Raethel said. “We rank with California for having one of the highest nursing salaries in the nation.”

Raethel says right now Hawaii is in need of at least 200 more nurses.

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