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Dallas County's public health system wants more nurses on staff, fewer expensive contractors

Bret Jaspers
Dr. Fred Cerise, President and CEO at Parkland Health, told Dallas County commissioners that hiring more nurses on staff is cheaper than paying for traveling nurses.

Hospitals around the country continue to rely on contract nurses — and it’s taking a budgetary toll. Parkland Health, Dallas County's public health system, wants to fill more nursing slots with regular employees.

“At one point before the pandemic, those costs were two times a salaried person,” said Dr. Fred Cerise, President and CEO at Parkland Health. “During the pandemic it was three times or higher what a salaried person could demand.”

Hospitals across the country hired traveling nurses in big numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bloomberg reported earlier this year the travel nurse industry tripled its revenue between 2015 and 2021, although a recentWall Street Journalstory says average salaries for these employees have declined from pandemic peaks.

Cerise spoke during a budget presentation on Tuesday at Dallas County Commissioners Court.

“We’ve been trying to convert what we can to paid staff,” Cerise said. He said his proposed budget assumed that some contract worker positions would transition into regular staff jobs.

Commissioner John Wiley Price asked if it was “realistic that you’re going to be able to do it.”

“That’s … one of our assumptions we know is going to take some work,” Cerise replied. “A lot of the early contract labor surge was fueled by federal relief payments to hospitals and states. That really caused an increase in available funds and therefore what these agencies could demand.”

Those payments have stopped, Cerise said, which gave him hope that the contract labor market would become “more rational.”

Cerise told Price that Parkland had 315 contract nurses.

In its budget presentation, Parkland said it anticipates decreasing its tax rate to 23.58 cents per $100 of taxable property, down from 25.5 cents. Overall tax revenue for the hospital system would still increase, although other sources of funds are set to drop.

Parkland projects a system-wide net income of almost $40 million for fiscal year 2023.

Commissioners are expected to vote on Parkland’s budget on September 6.

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Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.