By July 13, 2011 1 Comments

Ask a Travel Nurse: How do I deal with housing safety issues?

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scared travel nurseAsk a Travel Nurse Question:

I was placed in a housing area where others and myself are concerned. What do these housing folks look at in regard to safety? This agency took offense to my concerns and did nothing. Is this the norm or do some agencies really place their people in good places? Do they look at the cheapest place first? Has anyone you know been placed in Norfolk and if so where? Do most use stipend and find own housing?

Ask a Travel Nurse Answer:

I’ll start my response by telling you a story that I included in my book.

It was my very first assignment with a new travel company and they placed me in a location that they had not used before. The day I arrived the first thing I noticed were the neighborhood watch signs all over the place. I shook it off only to find my apartment was dark and depressing with appliances that came straight out of the 70′s. I was honestly in a somber mood after seeing where I was to live the next three months.

I figured nothing cures depression like food, so I took a trip to Burger King. When I returned, I saw five cop cars lining the entry drive to the complex. I saw an officer walking by and quickly exited my vehicle to try to ask him if this type of thing was the norm in this apartment complex. He rounded a corner about 10 seconds before me and as I followed, I started to hear voices. As I brushed by the corner, Whopper in hand, I saw an episode of “Cops” unfolding right before my eyes.

There were a group of about seven officers, all with guns drawn, screaming, “GET DOWN. DOWN ON THE GROUND NOW!!” This was all happening in the courtyard less than 100ft from my door.

I went back upstairs, ate my Whopper, and then called my travel company to tell them to get me the hell out of there. The person on the other end of the phone told me that if I didn’t feel safe, to go to a hotel and they would cover the expense. I declined figuring I didn’t want to unpack all of my stuff into a hotel room and certainly didn’t want to leave it in my truck. I stayed for a week until they found me a better spot, but that took some doing as I will explain later.

OK, now the situation with your company. Unfortunately, you have now learned what type of company with which you are traveling. I have always maintained that you can only take full measure of your travel company when bad things happen. It is in these moments that your company will either champion your cause and help you out, or play indifference (or even worse, hostility). I don’t know if it would make any difference at this point, but here is how I would play it.

First, call your recruiter and let them know that if things are not taken care of, you will not be traveling with them again. Next, send a certified letter (with return receipt confirmation) to the housing department of your travel company telling them you feel unsafe in your surroundings and are requesting other living arrangements. Once they receive this letter, call and speak to whomever’s desk it lands on. Tell them that you have now made a formal request and if they choose to do nothing, and anything bad does happen while you are on assignment, they are liable. Whether this is 100% true or not would be a question for an attorney and probably also depends on the state in which your contract is held. A little bluffing never hurts (and they might actually be liable). Once you have sent them a certified request, I would imagine a good attorney would be able to make a case of it were something bad to happen. However, the object here is NOT to wait to have something bad happen. The object is to make them realize that if something bad DOES happen, you are saying that you are going to come after them legally.

Again, this may or may not work. If not, then you need to assess your situation. If it is just a shady area, you can do things to protect yourself and stay safe. There are also good people living in shady areas that have the same concerns about safety as you. Try to know your neighbor and always be aware of your surroundings. There are countless things you can do to make things safer, but the bottom line is, you shouldn’t have to. These are only suggestions if you decide to stick it out. No one else can accurately know the threat you feel living there. No matter how many times I relate the story of my ordeal, I know that no one can truly feel the unease that I did. You can’t really assess threat unless you are in that situation. THAT is precisely why your travel company should simply offer to move you into a better living situation.

You must always place your safety first and if the area is just too dicey, then tell them that you are going to leave. Tell them it is their option of whether or not they want to find you a new place so that you may continue your assignment, but that you have no choice under the circumstances into which THEY placed you.

It certainly is no easy thing to walk away from a contract. You will need to fully understand the ramifications of doing so (it should be spelled out in your contract). If you cannot find clear indication of any fees or penalties (contract legalese that may allow a company to charge you money for canceling a contract), then you need to remember that in most states, I believe you are legally entitled to be paid for any worked hours. If they start wanting to withhold money, you might have to get an attorney involved.

Most travelers DO allow their travel companies to arrange housing for them. However, proactive travelers will get the name of the complex beforehand and look at the amenities, the location, and the surrounding neighborhood. It’s the only way to know if a place hundreds of miles away is safe. Not all companies spend the same amount of money on housing. I traveled with a company where I typically earned a dollar or two less an hour than travelers with different companies. However, my housing accommodations always seemed to be nicer than the places where other travelers were staying.

Sure, to have total control of the situation, you could easily find a place, or even just a room, on Craigslist or a similar site. But you also still have the headache of making sure you get a furnished place or rent furniture, pay the deposit money, and then find a place that works with your assignment dates. I always felt it was too much to take on at the start of an assignment. But I also worked with a company that often found me terrific housing (however, it was also the same company that struck out on the first try as they were the ones that placed me in the place in the story I mentioned above).

To further add insult in that instance, they were having trouble finding me another apartment. I ended up calling a few places that I wanted to stay and asked if they would entertain a short term lease. When one said they would, I called my housing coordinator and said, “Call this complex. They have a spot for me and will do a short term lease.” When she called me back to tell me that she got me an apartment there, she had the nerve to tell me that it was a good find and they would be using that complex in the future. I should have asked if she was going to give me her week’s pay for doing her job for her.

Since housing is the most important part of MY travel experience, I am very proactive when it comes to seeing where they will place me. If it’s not up to par, I will make them find me somewhere acceptable before I travel to my contract destination. Fortunately, that was never again an issue with that travel company. Since that time they have done a great job. I don’t fault them too much for choosing a bad place, but I would NEVER have traveled with them again if they did not correct their error. That is what your company needs to do or you should never accept another assignment with them. It would also be helpful to many readers if you could post in the comments the name of the agency you were with when this happened.

You might also be able to do some fast maneuvering here if you are on file with more than one travel company. This would take a LOT of coordination, but it could be done. Call the hospital liaison or whomever you dealt with when applying for the assignment. Tell them the situation and tell them you would like to stay, but cannot do that with your present living situation. Ask them if they would be willing to start you on a new contract, with a new company, so that you could continue to work for them.

You would then have to ask what companies the hospital has worked with in the past, hope that you are on file with one of those (or could get on file quickly) and if they would do a contract with the hospital and get you housing that was in a better location. If so, you could see firsthand the housing they would provide (as you are right there in that location now) and make sure it is what you expect. Then you could terminate your contract with company A and start a new one with company B. This will infuriate company A, but if they are not going to take you seriously, then your safety is what comes first. Of course, I do not know any specifics with regard to your contract with company A, so you need to research this to make sure they cannot hit you with any penalties or fees. If you wanted to try this, I might be able to offer some assistance with recruiters I trust to handle the situation with the tact needed.

It’s hard to know exactly how to advise you since I do not know all the specifics. I hope this has helped some and if you need further assistance, feel free to write. Also please post your final results of the situation. Many readers can benefit from knowing the path others have taken.

David
TravelNursesBible.com
david@travelnursesbible.com

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About the Author:

Hello everyone. I’m a travel nurse originally from Ohio who graduated in 1993 from Mount Carmel School of Nursing in Columbus. I completed a critical care fellowship at Riverside Methodist Hospital in 1994 and started traveling in that specialty a year later. My first travel assignment was in Maui and since that time I have completed over thirty travel contracts, worked with several different travel agencies, and currently hold about a half dozen nursing licenses in different states. Last year I wrote a book entitled, Travel Nurse’s Bible (A Guide to Everything on Travel Nursing), which can be found at TravelNursesBible.com. I am currently blogging on this site and writing a monthly column in Healthcare Traveler Magazine. I am presently on assignment in Phoenix, AZ and travel anywhere from six to eleven months of the year.

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