COVID has had an enormous impact on the healthcare landscape. One of the most prominent changes we’ve seen over the past two years is the exponential growth in nursing average hourly wages. Whether you’re an operator at a SNF or you’re interested in learning more about how nurses’ hourly wages are climbing, you’re in the right place.
By the end of this article, you’ll learn about some pertinent nurse pay statistics, the effects of these wage hikes, and what to expect going forward.
Average Nurse Hourly Pay is on the Rise
Let us begin by looking at how nurse hourly pay has changed over time. For that, we’ll look at the 2022 State of the SNF Industry Report.
General Nurse Hourly Wage Growth Rate
The average hourly wage for nurses was relatively steady, growing at a rate of 3.5 to 4.5% for the two years preceding the pandemic. But since 2020, when the pandemic began to send shockwaves through the U.S. healthcare industry, those growth rates rose significantly. In 2020, the total average hourly nursing wage growth rate was 5.3%. And by 2021 (year end), it jumped even further to 8.1%. This substantial increase has profoundly affected facilities that employ nursing staff.
Nurse Hourly Pay Increases by Specialty
To break things down further by specialty, nurse aid pay increased the most (we saw a wage jump of 9.7% in 2021), though all nurse specialties received an increase in average pay. In that same year, the average wage per hour for RNs and LPNs jumped 7% and 7.7%, respectively.
In addition, contracted nursing wages have grown quite a bit after COVID. In fact, we’ve seen a 2 to 3-time increase in pay for contracted aides and all other contracted nursing staff.
Current Nurse Wages by State
To give you an even clearer look at nurse wages in the U.S., consider the current nurse wages by state. You’ll see just how much nurse pay varies based on location. Based on the latest COVID-era stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California nurses bring in the most pay, at $120,000 per year (on average). In Florida, nurses bring home about $69,000 by comparison. The lowest-paid nurses are in Alabama - they make $60,230 on average.
These wages are all higher than they were before the pandemic.
Why Nursing Wages Have Climbed
One huge reason nursing wages have climbed so high is the nurse staffing shortage. At the start of the pandemic and even until today, nurses have been sorely needed, and here are some reasons why:
- There’s been an influx of COVID patients (and non-COVID patients) who need urgent care.
- Many nurses have reached retirement age and are leaving the industry altogether.
- Burnout has become common amongst nurses who work at understaffed and overburdened facilities.
- There aren’t enough new and adequately trained nurses to go around.
Without enough nurses, the demand for nursing staff has skyrocketed. Along with demand came an increase in bargaining power among nurses. If a facility cannot pay top dollar for a given nurse, another facility will. The alternative is to operate without enough nurses and risk providing subpar patient care.
This is what drove up nursing rates over time, and there’s no indication that these rates will return to pre-pandemic levels.
The Effects of Nursing Wage Increases on Healthcare Facilities
It’s no question that rising nursing wages have resulted in a financial crisis for SNFs and all other facilities that employ nurses. Here are some of the most substantial effects of the nursing wage increases:
- Financial issues. Payroll, which is already a substantial expense for any healthcare facility, has become more of a thorn in the side of SNF management personnel. Sometimes, workforce expenditures are enough to end a Skilled Nursing Facility.
- Reliance on contract labor. To keep from shutting down due to the nursing shortage, medical facilities have relied heavily on nurse staffing agencies for contract labor.
- Increased reliance on outside funding. Since a larger chunk of revenue is spent on paying higher-than-normal salaries, struggling facilities have had to seek grants to close the money gap. They have also become dependent on government funding, much of which is temporary (namely the PHE funding).
This is not an exhaustive list of effects.
It’s important to note that the effects of climbing hourly pay for nurses are felt more intensely among facilities that are already struggling. These facilities tend to be small and service many patients who have government health insurance.
Will Hourly Pay for Nurses Go Back Down?
The current healthcare landscape may seem like a new normal, but things can change instantly. The question of the day? “Will nurse pay go back down over time?” It is logical to surmise that once demand goes back to manageable levels, so will pay rates. But you can never be too sure.
We’ve already seen a change in nursing pay as of 2022 in the case of travel nurses. When the pandemic was at its worst in the U.S. and demand for travel nurses peaked, their wages were astronomical. Some travel nurses were paid a staggering $300 per hour. Times have changed, though. In areas where staffing levels are more under control, pay for travel nurses is coming down considerably. For instance, in Indiana, travel nurses that would have been paid more than $200 per hour are now being paid $120 to $190 per hour.
Note: These numbers are nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.
To preserve financial capital, other facilities are now following suit, attempting to renegotiate travel nurse pay to increase profits. We may eventually see pay decreases among RNs, LPNs, and nurse aids, but only time will tell.
We hope this article has helped shed some light on how nursing pay has increased over time and driven home how these wage increases have affected SNFs and other facilities. If you’re operating a facility that employs nurses, we encourage you to try negotiating with your nurses to see if you can arrive at fairer pay rates. We also urge you to seek out other ways to reduce expenditures without sacrificing patient care quality.