116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY --- Given the staffing concerns at a University of Iowa hospital facing the confluence of surging patient demand and a frazzled workforce, administrators announced Wednesday they’re doubling extra shift premium pay for inpatient nurses and respiratory therapists over the next seven weeks.
According to a message from UI Health Care’s Chief Nursing Executive Kimberly Hunter and Human Resources Associate Vice President Jana Wessels, the extra shift premium differential will increase from $15 to $30 an hour beginning Sunday and going through Nov. 21.
The temporary increase will apply to all extra shifts of four or more hours for eligible employees, including staff nurses and respiratory therapists in inpatient units and the emergency department. Also eligible are nurses in Behavioral Health Services, Children’s and Women’s Services, Intensive and Specialty Services, Medical Surgical Services and the Emergency Department.
“We want to express our deep appreciation to all who have been working so hard to provide the highest quality care during a challenging time,” the message from Hunter and Wessels said. “Thank you for your extraordinary dedication and perseverance.”
Health care employee burnout has emerged as among the biggest challenges of this wave of COVID -19 infections, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Chief Executive Officer Suresh Gunasekaran told reporters last week — noting his hospital is full of all types of acute patients, including those with COVID-19.
On Wednesday, UIHC was reporting 862 inpatients overall. As of Tuesday, UIHC had 41 adult COVID-19 inpatients and six pediatric COVID-19 inpatients.
And, after more than a year of dealing with the pandemic, some workers are leaving.
“We've had numerous health care workers across the nation exit the health care workforce, either through early retirement or just wanting to temporarily take a break,” Gunasekaran said. “And that's coming home to roost inside of Iowa and inside UIHC.”
Patient capacity concerns this time around aren’t as severe as they were during the initial wave of COVID-19 infections in 2020, according to Gunasekaran. But after 18 months of seeing a high volume of patients with severe illnesses, some workers are stepping away.
They’re retiring early or leaving for less-stressful jobs. They’re citing reasons like long hours, traumatic experiences, their own COVID-19 infections or those among family members.
“That is causing a workforce challenge for us, both when the employees themselves have to be at home because they've been exposed,” he said. “But also when they have a loved one that they have to care for that is COVID positive.”
To date for the entirety of the pandemic, more than 2,000 UIHC employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The vast majority of its workers — over 15,500 — have been vaccinated.
Due to the staffing crunch, UIHC has had to rely more heavily on traveling nurses, which cost more. And although the campus is trying to hire hundreds of employees — including nurses, food service workers, housekeepers, maintenance staff, assistants and aides — it’s unable to find them.
“We have had to hire more traveling nurses, as has everyone in the state,” Gunasekaran said last week. “But I would say that we have not been able to secure as many traveling nurses as we would like or, for that matter, hire as many new staff as we would like.”
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