PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Travel nurses have played an enormous role, supplementing staffing shortages during the pandemic. And now, we might not see as many of them staying here in Arizona.

Joanna Fakhouri has been a nurse for 10 years. She has done two tours as a travel nurse in northern Arizona and California.

Travel nurses

"Everyone is burnt out," Fakhouri said. "I always worked 60 hours." She describes the pandemic as traumatizing.

"I think I've run more codes and done more CPR in the last two years than my whole 10 years collectively," Fakhouri said.

COVID-19 essentially pushed her out of her job. She vividly remembers the day she reached her breaking point.

"I put someone in a body bag that looked like my already dead brother, so that was enough. I still kept going after that, but that was when it was like, ok, after this and around the holidays, I have to stop. I can't do this again," she said.

Hospitals hope Arizona gets more traveling nurses now amid staff shortage

Fakhouri isn't alone. Other travel nurses are calling it quits too. Jessica Rigler with the Arizona Department of Health Services said it's hard to keep travel nurses, especially during the holidays.

"We're finding this period around Christmas and New Years to be very difficult to get agreement on extensions or new starts," Rigler said. "That will lead to more nurses leaving the state here in the next week or two."

More nurses are leaving as hospitals are already dealing with an unprecedented situation. According to the Department of Health Services, only 6% of ICU beds are available across the state.

"We do expect a drop off of the number of nurses available, which depending on patient volume could lead to additional capacity challenges in hospitals," Rigler said.

Rigler said contracts are usually eight weeks long. Some travel nurses are choosing to quit, and others are just moving to the next assignment.

"We don't always know where they're going next," Rigler said.

As for Fakhouri, she hopes to get back to it once the time is right.

"We cannot pour out of an empty glass. I have been preaching that for the last two years. I didn't take my own advice, so I have been struggling," Fakhouri said.

Rigler said she anticipates they will see an uptick in traveling nurses in the middle of January once the holiday season passes. The vice president of communications at the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, Holly Ward, said hospitals throughout the state are experiencing an increase in patients coming in for critical care while staffing resources, like traveling nurses, are going away.

"Hospitals have seen charges of up to $265 an hour for travel nurses. This amount tends to vary by region and specialty. And, it is not clear how much the agency takes from that hourly fee and how much the nurse is paid. We can use everyone's help to take care, get their COVID-19 and flu vaccinations to prevent serious illness, and choose the right care when they need it – consider telemedicine visits or Urgent Care if you are not experiencing an emergency."


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