"I’m young and careful," "That would never happen to me." Do these statements ever cross your mind when signing up for a travel contract? They crossed mine and when trouble occurred, I wasn’t in the best position to prepare for the unexpected. I am here to tell you, fellow travelers, how to prevent or make the most out of a injury while on assignment.
While working my fourth contract in Virginia I injured my neck and shoulders. The funny thing was, I wasn’t even at work when my injuries occurred. Unable to perform my duties as a nurse my contract was cancelled. My insurance soon after was also terminated. They weren’t work related injuries, so I was left paying all the medical bills (physical therapy and orthopedic visits in NY and VA) on my own. So where do I go from here?
First: Check the insurance provided to you by your travel agency. I remember when I started travel nursing, getting injured to the point that I couldn’t work never crossed my mind. When I got injured the first time and was told I needed to do physical therapy before I could work again. Then, to have another accident that made my first injury worse and took me out of work even longer, yeah, that was definitely a blow. I thought about finances, how I’d pay for the three visits to two urgent cares and didn’t even know that my insurance was terminated. In the paperwork that came with my insurance it said that I was eligible for continued coverage if I was involuntarily terminated. I thought that it immediately rolled over to that coverage, but it’s actually a whole different process. You have to make sure to talk with your human resources representative and make sure that they send you the introductory letter or email to start the process for getting your continued coverage. Make sure you fill that paperwork out quickly because there is a window you have to be in to apply! I applied back in the beginning of July 2021 and my coverage didn’t resume until the end of August 2021! This can be and has been very stressful with the weekly phone calls to all those services and going through the insurance carrier, but also TASC, the third-party benefits administrator. Lastly, while you are applying for continued insurance after your contract is terminated, look for the sheet stating to apply to the ARP, this plan will help pay for your premium for your insurance.
Second: See if they offer any disability coverage (short term). This I wish I knew about before I even applied to travel nursing. When I was talking with my parents, my father told me to check and see if my company has any short-term disability services that I could apply for. Never knew that was a thing. I then checked in with my human resources again. Unfortunately, they said that they didn’t have that service (I know my per diem job back at my first hospital did), all they could recommend to me was to apply for unemployment. Since I was employed in Virginia and also had a job back in New York, they couldn’t tell me who or which one to apply to.
Third: Applying for unemployment. This can only be done once you are fully terminated from your contract. Now, if you have a per diem job in your home state too, chances are you will end up calling both states to see which unemployment benefit is higher. After choosing which state to apply for unemployment, you will have to call their unemployment department of labor agency and sit through a long list of prompts that you will have to answer. I hated this part because this took me from 830am to 1230pm because every time I’d be on a call with the representative the phone call would cut out and I’d have to repeat the whole process over again. Long story short, once you are finished applying for unemployment remember to certify your account and then certify for your benefits every week. Also, follow up every week to make sure your unemployment claim is being processed. I started this in Julyand I am still waiting for my claim to be either approved or denied. Other warning to heed, make sure you get your questionnaire and fill that out quickly. I was told I was going to receive one in the mail after I finished talking with a representative and never did, I had to reach out again to make sure the representative sent me one. Be prepared to wait a long period of time and to be hung up on multiple times. If that wasn’t enough, I was supposed to upload all my doctor’s notes into the portal for the department of labor. I was told by several representatives that there should be an option to upload, I promise there isn’t. I’ve called four days in a row for this issue and finally they said I can fax all the documentation (the questionnaire, the doctor’s notes and medical summaries). I refused that idea because the questionnaire has your full social security number and other personal identifiers, I didn’t want to risk the fax going somewhere it wasn’t supposed to go. So, I sent them through mail. A week went by and I never heard anything so I called again, when I finally got through, I was told they received the information I sent, but a few of the doctor’s notes were too light to read and was asked to send them again. I asked why I wasn’t informed that they received or even needed more copies of these documents and they simply said it isn’t there job to follow up with us. Finally, I did get a call from a case worker from the department of labor and they basically went over all the facts and documentation they needed to make and told me I should hopefully hear if my claim would be approved or denied. I've been working on this since June 2021 and it’s now September 2021.
Fourth: HSA and Emergency Fund. I was so thankful that my travel company had an HSA account set up for me. This benefit actually takes money from your paycheck and puts it into an account to pay for medical services. Definitely check if your travel company provides that benefit! The funds in that account helped me for a while, but unfortunately, I had to reach into my savings that were originally meant for graduate school. Even if it’s not for something in particular, I would highly recommend to everyone who travels to have an emergency fund. Not just for medical issues, but any unanticipated events that may come about in the unforeseen future.
Accidents can happen at any point in time. I was lucky mine weren’t too severe and just temporary. I’m in my twenties and in general a healthy person, I never thought I’d be injured to the point where I couldn’t work for a good chunk of time. Let my blunder be your friendly advice and please look into your benefits and services provided by your company. It might just save you from burning a big hole in your pocket.
As always, have fun, learn a lot and stay safe out there!
Written by: Kristina Marie, BSN, RN Neuro & General PCU