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Amid nursing shortage, Maryland nursing license platforms experiencing ‘temporary’ outages

Nurses who are looking to obtain or renew Maryland licenses may find themselves blocked due to a system outage at the state’s board of nursing that appears to be related to this month’s cyberattack at the state health department.

In a Dec. 17 letter to nursing license holders and candidates, Karen E. B. Evans, the Maryland Board of Nursing’s executive director, said the network security breach forced the state health department’s servers offline, suspending the nursing board’s ability to use its information technology systems that would handle license renewal applications.

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Evans said the outage will impact those whose licenses are set to expire between November and January. License holders who apply for renewal at least two weeks before the end of the 30-day grace period following the expiration of their licenses will have their licenses remain active until the incident resolves.

Meanwhile, Maryland Department of Health spokesman Andy Owen also said the platform that allows people to verify nurses’ licenses has been temporarily disabled. Nurses who received their licenses before Dec. 4 can still verify their licenses using an alternate website, Owen said, but those who are new to the profession will face barriers.

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“The [Maryland Board of Nursing] is working with the Office of Nursing to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to develop a plan to issue authorizations to test and [issue] temporary licenses to individuals who have passed their licensure examination,” Owen said in an email. “The Board will contact candidates individually by phone and/or email when the plan takes effect.”

Owen also said that nursing candidates who have not yet obtained their licenses may still be able to work as “Nursing Graduates,” and the board is working with the state health department to extend the time frame for practicing with that temporary status from 90 to 120 days. Candidates will be notified if that goes into effect.

The interference comes amid widespread nursing shortages in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities both in Maryland and elsewhere. The shortfalls have contributed to the crises forming at several hospitals throughout the state, where COVID-19, flu and other patients have overwhelmed capacity limits.

The same nurses who care for COVID-19 patients and perform testing are being asked to staff the vaccination clinics, meaning that some areas will suffer as the industry endures such scarcities.

The workforce already was stretched and stressed, even before the pandemic. Some are leaving their jobs and signing on with staffing agencies that pay better and are driving up the cost of providing care.

Last month, the University of Maryland School of Nursing said it would allow nursing students to exit a bit early to begin working in the field to alleviate some of the pressures in the health care industry. The University of Maryland Medical System also pledged to spend $5.1 million to attract nurses and other clinical graduates of two-year community colleges in the region to its hospitals. Those funds will help offset the cost of community college for new graduates, system representatives said, adding that demand to fill positions was at an all-time high.

Earlier this month, Gov. Larry Hogan said he’d introduce emergency legislation to help fill the gaps in the health care workforce, by allowing nurses licensed in other states to work in Maryland and giving nursing school students more responsibilities inside hospitals.

Hospitals throughout the state, including the Luminis Health medical network in Anne Arundel County and some of the University of Maryland System hospitals, instituted new measures this week that would redeploy outpatient staffs to hospitals and ease the documentation requirements on workers for now.

On Tuesday, the Maryland Hospital Association called on the governor to reinstitute a public health emergency for the state’s health care system in response to spiking COVID-19 patients and a hallowed-out workforce.

Several health department functions were disrupted after the cyberattack, which crippled the state’s COVID-19 data reporting and several local health department operations. As of Tuesday, much of the COVID-19 data points had been restored, including the virus’ death toll, which showed 415 fatalities since the Dec. 4 network breach.

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