‘We’re being preyed on’: Nurses stuck with thousands in training costs

Training costs are a rising trend in health care

During a recent podcast, nurse administrator Vernell Davis discussed reasons a nurse might be written up.The most common was being late to work. .Another reason was not letting our nurse leader know far enough in advance that you won't be able to work.Failure to communicate promptly and accurately can result in a reprimand, Davis said.Behavior issues, such as outbursts or expressing your personal opinions at work, can lead to a reprimand

Jacqui Rum quit her nursing job at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California, last fall, exhausted by an overloaded schedule and constant staffing struggles — both nationwide issues for the nursing industry.

Imagine her shock when she received a $2,000 bill from her former employer.

The bill was for training expenses and tied to a contract Rum was required to sign when she took the job. That contract dictated that Rum would have to pay the hospital back for any training if she quit or was fired before her two-year contract expired.

Burned out and unable to take so much as a 30-minute break during her 12-hour shifts, Rum decided to leave the position after 13 months. Now Los Robles Regional Medical Center is threatening to charge interest and legal fees on top of the original $2,000 bill.

“We’re being preyed on by someone in power,” Rum told NBC News. “We’re desperate for a job, we just got out of school, we don’t know any better. I didn’t even have time to take a lunch break, my hair was falling out, the level of stress just wasn’t sustainable.”

According to Brynne O’Neal, a regulatory policy specialist with National Nurses United, many of the training programs covered under these agreements — including the training Los Robles Regional Medical Center valued at $4,000 — do not meet expectations.

“These training programs do not provide nurses with any sort of new qualification,” O’Neal told NBC News. “Rather, employers are passing on to nurses the cost of basic on the job training that’s required for any RN position at any hospital, and then they’re using these contracts to lock nurses into their jobs or risk this devastating financial penalty. Having that debt hanging over them means that nurses have a harder time advocating for safe conditions for themselves and their patients.”

HCA issued a statement in response to the news, citing their “substantial investment” in the program.

“Given our substantial investment in this professional development program, we ask participants to commit to stay with us for a certain period of time after completing the training,” HCA told NBC News. “During the course of their commitment, nurses are eligible for promotion and have the flexibility to pursue opportunities at any of our more than 2,300 sites of care across the country.”

Labor experts, however, say they are not fooled.

“We’re seeing these expand exponentially, especially in sectors where there’s a huge demand for workers that predated the pandemic,” Jonathan Harris, an associate professor at Loyola Law School and a fellow at the Student Borrower Protection Center, told NBC News.

“The main purpose is not to provide real useful training to workers and simply to just recoup the cost of that. The main purpose has, in many instances, been simply as a mechanism to keep workers from leaving their job through debt and using the training part of it as basically a pretext to make it try to appear justifiable.”