Understanding What Happens in a Low Census Situation

Written by Rose Torrento on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 Posted in On the Job

It’s a good thing when fewer people visit the hospital, right? While fewer visits generally mean fewer health care concerns, it’s actually a bad sign for travel nurses. If you’re assigned to a health care facility to meet an increased demand and that demand no longer exists, there may not be a need for the additional staff. It’s a situation called low census and it affects travel nurses in a very real way.

low census

What is low census?

Low census is when the patient population in a hospital or health care facility is too low for the facility to use its entire nursing staff. Essentially, the facility is overstaffed for a period of time.

Low census is not extremely common, but it does happen, especially in areas with fluctuating populations or rapidly changing health care needs. For example, hospitals in locations such as Florida experience higher traffic in winter because of snowbirds traveling seasonally. The facility will hire travel nurses to ensure it is properly staffed. However, in spring, when the visitors return to their homes in other parts of the country, there may be too many nurses for the reduced number of patients.

What low census can mean for you

Unfortunately, low census can have a direct impact on your ability to complete your assignment. Travel nurses tend to experience the effects of low census first because they’re temporary staff.

One of the first things that may happen is your facility will cut your hours or cancel an occasional shift. This may mean you won’t be making the money you expected to when you signed your contract.

Some facilities may opt to “float” you to another unit or facility to utilize your skills where you’re needed more. While this offers you the opportunity to continue working, the new facility or responsibilities may not be in the area you signed up for or what you are comfortable with.

If low census continues for long periods of time, your facility may even decide to cancel your contract. This won’t require you to pay fines or fees as you would if you cancelled the contract yourself, but it will mean you will have to return home or seek a new assignment.

What can you do?

If you’re in a low census situation with your hospital, you may be feeling frustrated. You have options and rights.

Regarding pay, some contracts will include “guaranteed hours” clauses or low census protection, which ensures that you are still paid by your agency, even if the hospital cancels your shifts. However, you must be aware that volunteering to leave early or taking off will disqualify you for this payment.

In other situations, facilities may have a cancellation rule that exempts you from pay for a certain number of cancellations per assignment. For example, you may not get paid for the first three cancellations. After that, the facility will have to pay you if they continue to cancel your shifts.

If you’re dealing with cancelled shifts or cut hours, reach out to your Health Providers Choice recruiter and discuss the terms of your contract. We can help you determine your next steps.

Low census situations are rare, but they do happen. If you’re on assignment at a facility with declining numbers of patients, talk to your recruiter. Health Providers Choice will ensure that your situation is handled fairly. Contact us online or call us today at 888-299-9800.

About the Author

Rose Torrento

Rosemarie Torrento has worked in health care for more than 26 years, beginning as a registered nurse in 1988. Early in her nursing career, Torrento worked as a freelance contract nurse before accepting a position in nursing administration. During her 17-year tenure in that role, she oversaw nursing employment and travel nurse contracting at a Level 1 Trauma Hospital in Michigan. Understanding the challenges travel nurses faced, Torrento founded Health Providers Choice Inc. (HPC) in 2003. Through Torrento’s extensive experience and her role as President and CEO, HPC provides travel placement of registered nurses and allied health professionals to hospital systems nationally.