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WASHINGTON — As the U.S. health system buckles under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic, private equity firms are cashing in.

Some of their investments center on nurse staffing agencies, a little-known cluster of companies that send free-floating nurses to help hospitals when they’re short-staffed or otherwise in need of extra assistance. Hospitals have relied on the agencies like never before during the pandemic, as wave after wave of hospitalizations strained nurses, who face a crushing burden of sick patients and the possibility that they will fall ill themselves.

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