NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — While Governor Hochul again on Monday suggested outside help to plug any holes for staffing to help keep hospitals operating, 2 On Your Side found out that's exactly what's already being done at many facilities here locally.
We spoke with one local hospital chief who says that process can indeed be very expensive.
Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center President Joseph Ruffolo bluntly says "The supply of nurses - again it's demand and supply - the demand is far, far outpacing the supply."
So even with a 93 percent vaccine compliance rate for his staffers, Ruffolo still sees intense competition period to hire for those open health care positions.
The Falls medical center like most hospitals uses outside nurses under temporary contracts for key specialty areas if need be. That is sometimes at significant expense. And Ruffolo says the firms providing those trained temps know the market. He compares it PPE supply prices which soared last year.
He says "Maybe six months ago we were paying a travel agency $60 dollars an hour for a nurse, Now it's $100 dollars. Or depending on the specialty it could be $130 dollars an hour."
And while local hospital systems including Catholic Health say that they're actively trying to recruit more nursing staff, they're also running into competition from contract or travel nurse staffing agencies which are offering great pay and the chance for a single nurse to travel the country if he or she wants to do so."
Ruffolo notes that "Right now travel agencies are recruiting local nurses and they're exporting them to Florida and to Arizona where you know they can - they're getting $4,500 dollars a week for a nurse."
The Governor also suggested other countries as a source like the foreign nurses in New York City last year. And as we reported previously, trained lab techs from the Phillipines out in the Pacific were indeed successfully brought in to the hospital in the Falls. However as Ruffolo adds "It's a timely process in terms of getting them through all of the hurdles with working VISAs and getting all the necessary regulatory approvals. That doesn't take place overnight."
Hochul has also suggested using National Guard troops with medical training or appealing to the federal government for assistance in the form of specially designated medical teams which are used to help in disaster areas of the country.
The state has limited National Guard medical personnel in the Albany area but many of them are also practicing as doctors or nurses in their civilian professions. And there are limited disaster team members at the federal level.
There are other medical staff serving as reservists at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station here in Western New York. But they would have to be activated by officials in Washington and then also be taken away from their regular medical positions at hospitals.