Pay cuts, furloughs, and vanishing job security for nurse practitioners in the COVID-19 era

Nurse practitioner carrying a box of her things labeled "fired"after pay cuts and furloughs

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I’ll never forget the day that I read about the first widely publicized pay cuts, furloughs, and vanishing job security for nurse practitioners, doctors, and nurses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  I was shocked as I read the article and thought to myself, “laying off essential healthcare workers in the middle of a pandemic is not a smart move”. Little did I know that I would also face pay cuts, furloughs, and reduced work hours only a week later. 

I was not immune to the financial turmoil sweeping the nation and now it was hitting the healthcare industry hard. I experienced a wide range of emotions.  But, at the end of the day the only thing I could feel was gratitude for still having a job.  Let’s explore some of the rationales for vanishing job security for nurse practitioners in the COVID-19 era and what can be done about it. 

Financial losses to healthcare sustained during the pandemic

According to the American Hospital Association they found a direct correlation between four key factors and the catastrophic toll on the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Many of the shelter in place orders mandated by governors also shut down nonessential services and elective procedures like mammograms and knee replacements. This measure was needed to conserve space, PPE, and ventilators to make way for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients.  Apparently these types of procedures are the bread and butter of the industry.  Non-emergency services were placed on hold.  So if you are a surgical nurse or advanced practice provider specializing in this area, you probably found yourself with reduced work hours or furloughs.
  2. The cost to stock PPE and other supplies during the pandemic outweighs the amount of revenue made by hospitals as many patients defer long needed care. Due to supply chain issues, the cost of PPE was increased.  Hospitals faced bidding wars in order to stock needed supplies.
  3. The cost to hospitalize COVID-19 patients and establish make shift units and specialized COVID-19 units. Also, many patients have lost their jobs and healthcare insurance with no means to pay for their care.
  4. Cost of hospitals to support their workers with additional support like child care, transportation, and housing

The cumulative effects of these losses from March 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020 revealed a total four month financial impact of $202.6 billion in losses, which is an average of $50.7 billion per month. These numbers are mind boggling.

Pay cuts, furloughs and vanishing job security

It’s no wonder that hospitals and clinics can’t afford to pay their workers. What about reserves? Yes, absolutely, healthcare systems should have reserves for situations such as this. But, they can’t be expected to run on this sort of operating loss for long. We’re now coming up on 6 months of this sort of intense strain to the healthcare system.  As the weeks have unfolded, the unemployment rate has risen to staggering new heights.  At the peak 40 million Americans were unemployed with no way to make ends meet and provide for their families. 

The scenario is unprecedented and terrifying. The COVID-19 era is forcing many nurse practitioners and advanced practice providers to take another look at their finances amid vanishing job security.  For so long many of us have wrapped the thought of job security around us like a warm blanket.  They even teach this concept in nursing schools as a reason to choose nursing and to stick with it. Being a nurse, nurse practitioner, or advanced practice provider is still an amazing profession.  As we’re on the verge of another Great Depression what are some key takeaways?

Key takeaways from the pandemic

  1. The healthcare industry is not immune to financial downfall. Financial models are predicting things well get much worse before they get better. The additional $600 per week allotted by Congress for unemployment is set to expire at the end of this month. Congress is now in session to determine what, if anything, will take it’s place. They must act quickly since they are approaching a month long break from August till September.
  2. Always have a backup plan and save for a rainy day. I know these are cliché concepts, but how many of us are wishing we had backup savings to get us through?
  3. No matter if you’re facing a furlough or job loss; nurses, nurse practitioners, and advanced practice providers are known for their resourcefulness. So you’ll figure out how to navigate this difficult time. Cut expenses and hustle.
  4. Try not to be bitter about your circumstances. You have to keep moving forward. So many have lost their jobs and although you may have been laid off at one institution. There are many more that will need your help.  You may need to switch specialties, but hopefully only for a short time if you feel passionately about your old one. 

I hope this post has been helpful to those who may have faced pay cuts, furloughs, and vanishing job security amid the pandemic. Or if you’re experiencing the scenario now. If your salary hasn’t been impacted, then consider helping out a struggling family member, colleague, or neighbor. Feeding America is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to end hunger. Consider donating to their COVID-19 response fund.

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