Sana Abbas was wondering how she could afford to stay in a profession she loves. When the pandemic started, she was a certified nursing assistant splitting her work weeks between two facilities. Her hourly pay was below $20.
“I felt like it wasn’t guaranteed pay, and you had to fight for your hours,” she said.
So she made a change: Abbas began working for Gale Healthcare Solutions, a Tampa-based tech company. Its app allows nurses to float between facilities, picking up shifts for a set contract rate. In exchange for instability, contract nurses receive higher hourly pay and generous overtime and holiday compensation.
“If somebody offers you double the pay for the exact same job, shoot, what are you going to do? That’s a no brainer, right?” said Michael Bumbach, a clinical assistant professor at University of Florida’s college of nursing.
Now, Abbas said, she’s rarely booked below 40 hours per week. Her pay ranges from $20 per hour to nearly $40 on holidays. And the 29-year-old became a registered nurse six months ago.
The nursing profession is still in crisis after COVID-19. Florida is projected to be short nearly 60,000 nurses by 2035, per the Florida Hospital Association. Three-quarters of U.S. nursing homes are so stretched thin that they’ve turned to contract nurses.
Gale, which launched in 2016 under CEO Tony Braswell, flourished during the pandemic, when traveling nurses became the norm for hospitals besieged by COVID-19. Nearly 600 Florida facilities and 18,000 nurses in the state use the app now, according to the company.
The company signed on former Google exec Kan Kotecha last summer and opened a new, almost quintuple-sized headquarters near Tampa’s Westshore District in December. Gale also scored a $60 million investment from FTV Capital in January 2022.
But Gale’s growth hasn’t been all-encompassing. It laid off roughly 80 to 90 employees at the start of this year, Gale’s vice president of corporate affairs Sandra Germann confirmed. Its latest internal employment count totals 350 nationally and 185 in Tampa Bay — about 150 fewer than the 500 national employees and 250-260 local workers Gale reported to the Tampa Bay Business Journal in December 2022.
Kotecha said the layoffs won’t get in the way of a key goal for the company: advancing machine learning and artificial intelligence to better predict how nurses and facilities behave.
For small operations like Lakeland Nursing and Rehabilitation, which found itself swarmed last month with 100 extra patients from a flooded Clewiston facility, Gale trumps traditional staffing agencies like ShiftKey, said the nursing facility’s staff coordinator Fran Hall. She’s still filling 6 to 7 shifts a week with Gale contractors.
Large providers are taking a different approach. BayCare and HCA primarily use an in-house pool of part-time workers to fill shifts, spokespersons there said. But other changes for nurses and patients are on the horizon.
Follow trends affecting the local economy
Subscribe to our free Business by the Bay newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Two of BayCare’s 16 Florida hospitals are now equipped with voice technology, enabled by Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa and health tech firm AVIA, that allows patients to communicate needs directly to the appropriate nurse’s phone rather than pressing the call button.
In new hospitals like BayCare’s Wesley Chapel outpost, which opened March 7, tech is getting more advanced. Alexa-enabled smart rooms allow patients to adjust the lighting, air conditioning, blinds, music and TV through simple voice commands.
There’s “no point in pushing [tech] away,” Bumbach said. But contracts and patient-centered tech, he said, still don’t solve a bigger industry problem: low pay for full-time workers.
“The easiest way of getting folks to stay is to pay them,” he said.
Clarification: This story was updated to reflect the most current figures of the company’s app usage.