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INDIANAPOLIS — Central Indiana hospitals are hiring an unprecedented number of traveling nurses to keep up with staffing shortages, spending millions to fill current vacancies.

“Particularly in Indiana, we’re already at twice the amount of nurses that we had there last year,” said Lauren Pasquale Bartlett, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Fastaff Travel Nursing.

She says there’s been a significant increase in demand over the last few months.

“It’s a direct correlation to the amount of hospital admissions that healthcare system are seeing,” Bartlett said.

We asked the biggest health systems in central Indiana if the vacancies are because of vaccine mandates for staff.

Riley hospital for children said no.

Franciscan health agreed, adding it’s because nurses are leaving for other jobs or retiring.

“The interest from nurses, measured by online applications, last year at this time we were at five times higher than the year before,” Bartlett said. “Right now, we’re looking at double the numbers, triple the numbers.”

“Four to six percent is what we expect in terms of vacancy rate,” said Gill Peri, President of Riley Children’s Health. “It’s a little bit higher than that.”

We spoke to Gill Peri, the president of Riley Children’s Health, last month who told us the nursing vacancy rate was at 9 percent. 

Riley Hospital couldn’t gives us an updated number today.

“Where we have staffing shortages, we have the ability to flex to other units,” Peri said.  “As well as use outside support, such as travelers.”

Franciscan Health denied my request for an interview but provided a statement confirming they have hired travel nurses to supplement staffing shortages; as has Community Health Network.

“Most health care systems are having to think differently about how we recruit and retain nurses,” Peri said.

IU Health raised minimum wage, created a premium pay program and an employee assistance program to compete with other companies. 

Still, hospitals are adamant that the shortage does not put patient care at risk. 

“At no time do we compromise safety or ratios related to patient care,” Peri said.