Vaccines for Travel Nurses

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nurses have noticed the slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout across the country, including closer to home at UofL Health. Some travel nurses working in the ICU at UofL Health Jewish Hospital have yet to receive their first round of the vaccine.

What You Need To Know

  • Some travel nurses at UofL Health have yet to receive first round of COVID-19 vaccine
  • Securing a shot elsewhere has also been hard, one travel nurse says
  • UofL Health Chief Medical Officer says no one is being singled out, difficult to coordinate the logistics of getting travel nurses the vaccine
  • Nurses hoping to receive an invite sooner rather than later

The tough times nurses have endured throughout the pandemic can’t be overstated. When many people were staying safe at home, nurses faced the frontlines to treat patients.

“This is a year that I have zipped more body bags than I have ever zipped in my life,” said Kelly Fleming, RN, BSN, BS, who works in UofL Health Jewish Hospital’s ICU. 

Fleming is a travel nurse, a contract worker with UofL Health. It means she’s not permanent staff. Travel nurses like Fleming can move hospitals and between floors, working where there’s the greatest need.

But lately, Fleming and some of her coworkers have felt slighted. Weeks into the coronavirus rollout, she’s still not received an invitation to get the shot herself. Instead, she’s watched as other nurses get vaccinated. Travel nurses are left off the lists, so far.

“Being the only ones that aren’t vaccinated, we’re the ones going to the COVID[-19] patients, and then we’re being sent back to our home floors, and we deal with some of the most immunocompromised people in the hospital,” she explained.

Another nurse, who wishes not to be identified, told Spectrum News 1: “That just sank my heart. I was way more hopeful and I guess I shouldn’t have been. I’m left behind, and I’m not moving toward the progression of being able to make everything [safer].”

Fleming said she reached out to hospital staff to inquire as to whether the exclusion of travel nurses was a mistake. Instead of hearing they were overlooked, the email she forwarded to Spectrum News 1, signed by UofL Health’s HR Team, states, “traveling nurses will eventually receive an invite but we do not know what date that will be yet.”

Securing a shot elsewhere, outside of UofL Health, has proven to be challenging, too, Fleming said. She’s mostly worried she’ll infect a patient.

“Not having that vaccine really weighs on us and makes us feel that we could put them in harm’s way. That’s where our frustrations lie for the most part,” Fleming added. “The worst thing that’s going to happen to them is to get COVID, and that’s I think our biggest fear, is being the only thing that stands between them and a successful healthy life.”

UofL Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Smith said the likelihood of COVID-19 being transferred nurse to patient is low, although it has happened at the hospital before.

“That’s not a huge mode of transportation of this virus, between patient and staff or staff-to-patient,” Smith said.

Smith implied he would not hold a nurse responsible for infecting a patient if all the proper hospital procedures are being followed, saying: “I will never fault any of the nurses that are taking care of our patients and either worried about giving a patient this virus. If they are following our protocols, the risk of transmission is very small. They are asked to do a very difficult job, and we want to be here to support them.”

He said no one is being singled out of the vaccine rollout.

“It’s not about withholding anything. I want to reiterate, there’s nothing discriminatory about this. I really want them to get this, and I think our job right now as a healthcare system is to do everything we can to get this vaccine out to people,” said Smith.

He claimed it’s difficult to coordinate the logistics of getting travel nurses the vaccine, in getting contact information from their companies’ HR departments, since they are not directly employed by UofL Health.

Still, the nurses are hoping to get the invites sooner rather than later. Smith said another round of email invites went out Thursday, and more will go out Monday.

So far, Fleming and her unidentified coworker say they have not been invited, but were told when they again inquired, “hopefully next week.”

Fleming and her coworker are employees of Aya Healthcare, a travel nurse agency. Aya Healthcare issued the following statement:

“While the majority of the hospitals where our travelers are assigned have been including travel nurses in their vaccination efforts, some have not. Travel nurses have been on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 and have put themselves in harm’s way to provide care to communities throughout the country. Hospitals have turned to travel nurses in a time of crisis to ensure that their patient population has adequate care.

“Since staffing agencies like Aya Healthcare are currently not recipients of vaccines, we strongly encourage all hospitals to offer the vaccine to travel nurses. They have no other way to receive the vaccine than through the healthcare facilities where they are supporting. It’s simply the right thing to do to protect the healthcare workers who have risked their safety to provide care in these communities.”

Editor’s Note: Kelly Fleming is the significant other of another Spectrum News 1 employee. Stay with SN1 as we continue to follow the story.

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