The COVID-19 pandemic has created a nurse staffing crisis that is forcing many U.S. hospitals to pay top dollar to get the help they need to handle the crush of patients this summer.

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The problem, health leaders say, is twofold: Nurses are quitting or retiring, exhausted or demoralized by the crisis.

And many are leaving for lucrative temporary jobs with traveling-nurse agencies that can pay $5,000 or more a week.

The explosion in salaries has wreaked havoc on hospitals without deep enough pockets.