UPMC travel nurses say their pay was cut by 15%

PITTSBURGH — They were part of the front-line workers putting their lives on the line every day at the height of the pandemic. But now, travel nurses within the UPMC hospital system say they feel unappreciated and undervalued.

“We were lied to,” said a male nurse of 10 years, who didn’t want to be identified.

Several nurses reached out to Channel 11 complaining about upcoming changes to UPMC’s two-year-old traveling nurse program.

Two of them, who didn’t want their names used, tell us one of the major changes includes a pay cut by $13 an hour.

“We were told nothing was going to change with our rate and they’ve cut our rate 15%,” said the male traveling nurse.

There are about 700 nurses who travel to other UPMC hospitals throughout the state and New York or Maryland.

The announcement was made in a virtual meeting. Much of the staff in the program will go from making $85 an hour to $72 an hour.

“This just completely came out of nowhere for all of us and it was a huge, huge shock,” the male nurse said.

Another nurse of 18 years said a majority of the travel nurses feel disappointed.

“We felt very blindsided,” she said.

OR nurses will be working more hours a week and there will also be changes to overtime.

A spokesperson for the health system said it turned to an internal traveling nurse program to address staffing challenges at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but as time went on, the demand for them went down.

Some dedicated employees, however, feel as though it’s a slap in the face.

“They talk about honesty and integrity, and I don’t feel like they treated us as employees with honesty and integrity, and it’s just disheartening,” the female travel nurse said.

UPMC’s Chief Communications Officer Paul Wood sent a statement that read:

“The scheduling agreement (UPMC Travel Staffing Agreement) is not a contract. It was intended as a way to ensure that employees understood the program as it existed when they started. It states in that agreement that it is not an employment agreement.

“The UPMC travel staffing program was created over two years ago to address significant staffing challenges that arose as a result of the pandemic and aggressive external nursing agency practices. UPMC created this opportunity for staff who were willing to travel across the entire health system to care for patients in any UPMC location.

“Since that time, the healthcare landscape across the U.S. has continued to dramatically change and there has been a significant shift away from external agency use, including a rapid decrease in contract rates.

“The UPMC travel staffing program is now evolving, as others have across the country. We have made significant progress to stabilize our site-specific nursing workforce.

“We strongly value flexibility in components of our workforce, which is why the UPMC travel program will continue as an important part of our commitment to patients and staff, with premium pay for that workforce.

“We are incredibly grateful to the UPMC nurses who are in the UPMC travel program. Their dedication and flexibility has been and will continue to be a key component of our care team as we continue to respond to the dynamic healthcare landscape in the U.S.”

The changes were supposed to start this Sunday, Feb. 11, but that has now been pushed back to Feb. 25.

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