HONOLULU (KHON2) — Travel clinicians arrived in waves to the island, and some of the contracts for the nurses who arrived early on are set to expire in the next couple of weeks. Some hospitals are working to retain them to support the staff.

The contracts for travel clinicians were for a six to eight week period as the state grappled with a spike in COVID patients over the summer.

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The Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel said it is likely a portion of these nurses will remain on the job a little longer.

“Some of our hospitals actually looking to potentially recruit some of these nurses,” Raethel said. “We went into this pandemic with a shortage of clinics, clinical staff, including nurses, especially some of the higher level nurses like ICU nurses, telemetry nurses.'”

A Queen’s Medical Center spokesperson said they are trying to keep travel nurses to help with staffing levels, either by extending contracts or by hiring them permanently.

The Hawaii Nurses Association President Daniel Ross said it is not unusual for hospitals to hire for permanent positions from the pool of travel nurses.

“It’s a relatively common place, a few of the travel nurses to convert to regular employees,” Ross said. “The hospitals kind of like it because they get to test them out.”

With COVID hospitalizations on the decline, these specialized clinicians will begin to be phased out as contracts expires, but Ross said their help is still needed in certain areas.

Rosss said, “There are still places, there are specialty area where there are short, the ICUs are still short, they don’t have enough ICU nurses.” 

The shortage of nurses has long been an issue even before the pandemic. Governor David Ige said he is aware of the issue.

“The hospitals continue to be actively recruiting for the healthcare personnel that they need,’ Ige said. “We are working to be able to produce more from the educational institutions right here in the islands.”

Ross said it is up to the hospitals to hire more nursing graduates, but there needs to be some balance.

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Ross said, “I want them to hire lots of new grads but you have to balance that out with experienced nurses.”