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Are healthcare staffing companies a haven for bad nurses?

A controversial article within the healthcare staffing industry by the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica, appeared in The Los Angeles Times on Sunday, Dec. 6th. The article, Temp Firms a Magnet for Unfit Nurses, discusses the quality, or lack thereof, of nurses working through staffing firms. It appears to be just one of many articles dealing with problems that the state of California is having with healthcare in general and nurses in particular by journalists Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber

When I read the article, which discusses several nurses who make absolutely unacceptable decisions on the job and have inexcusable records for being hired in the first place, my opinion is that a few bad apples are ruining it for everyone. The nurses discussed in the article are repeatedly recycled through temporary staffing companies who do not perform background checks on them or even bother to call their references.

The article applies a broad brush to temporary nurses in general as not being as qualified as staff nurses, with no reference to research that proves otherwise. Unfortunately, it does not acknowledge that many temporary nurses are full-time at times in their careers or even while working as a temp nurse at another hospital. Are there some bad nurses who travel or work per diem? Sure. Just like there are bad nurses who work full-time.

Where I really have trouble with the story is in the way it places all the blame on the staffing agencies, which do deserve their share of the blame, but what about the nurses themselves, who lie and forge documents to get jobs. And the hospitals that use companies without auditing them themselves. The industry is referred to as a ‘Wild West” with little, but increasing regulation, which is really where the problem lies. The good healthcare staffing companies regulate themselves by either being Joint Commission certified, belonging to NATHO – National Association of Travel Healthcare Organizations  or both. They have extensive on-boarding processes that include background checks from independent third party vendors, reference checks, drug screenings, skills assessments, follow-up reviews from the client hospital, etc. And if a nurse does come back with serious issues they are investigated and added to ‘Do Not Use” lists.

Sadly it is the bad companies that skimp on these procedures that the unfit nurses are looking for. Nurses with some of the issues discussed in the article are not going to work with companies they know have strict application processes.

Clearly the article points to a problem and demonstrates a need for more centralized data that can spot these nurses faster for both nurse staffing agencies and hospitals alike. This discussion is covered very well during this radio interview with the two authors of the article and Michael Weinholtz, board member of the American Staffing Association and President and CEO of CHG Healthcare Services.

What are your thoughts?