Massachusetts has lifted the cap on rates paid to temporary nursing agencies.

The commonwealth's Executive Office of Health and Human Services has increased the cap by 35 percent across the board and removed the cap altogether for nurses and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) who are working with COVID-19 patients. The temporary change is due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the office says.

Massachusetts is the only state in the country to limit how much nursing homes can pay agenciesthat help them fill empty shifts. This limit effectively eliminates the possibility of hazard pay for nurses who are hired via temporary nursing agencies. This has posed a particular challenge during the pandemic, as understaffing has plagued nursing homes, which have been particularly hard hit by the virus.

Since early in the pandemic, temporary nursing agencies have lobbied the state to lift the rate cap.

“It’s wonderful news,” said David Coppins, CEO of IntelyCare, a temporary nursing agency.

He said the change shows the state is “recognizing the volatility of the situation and how much pressure both the facilities and the nurses are under.”

Coppins said he believes the new rates are better aligned with the current situation. However, he added, the pandemic has already had a “devastating” impact on nursing homes. This has prompted many nurses and CNAs to seek out facilities that can offer hazard pay or simply avoid nursing homes.

“We've lost 35 percent of our workforce, and we know some of them have gone out of state and some of them are just sitting on the sidelines and saying the pay rate doesn't match the risk,” Coppins said.

Coppins said nursing homes in neighboring states, like Rhode Island, have been able to offer higher wages.

He hopes this higher rate cap will lure some of those nurses and certified nursing assistants back to work in Massachusetts. However, he acknowledged that even before the higher rate cap was officially announced, many nursing homes were forced to offer higher rates than legally allowed in an attempt to fill empty shifts.