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Maryland's nursing shortage getting worse

The Baltimore Sun

Despite increased salaries, creative recruiting techniques and government-funded scholarship programs, the nursing shortage at Maryland hospitals is getting worse, according to a report released yesterday by the Maryland Hospital Association.

And that means patients are waiting longer for care in and outside the emergency room.

Though more people are entering the nursing field, the job vacancy rate rose to 13 percent in 2006 from 10.3 percent a year earlier.

"The supply just isn't keeping up with the demand," said Catherine Crowley, vice president of the hospital association.

Technology has enabled more medical procedures, and the aging baby boomers have led to more hospital admissions, vaulting the need for nursing staff to new heights. Maryland hospitals would have to hire 2,340 more nurses to be fully staffed and could face a shortfall of 10,000 nurses within a decade as thousands retire.

Nationwide, U.S. hospitals are collectively 118,000 nurses short, according to the American Hospital Association. By 2020, that figure is expected to increase nearly 10-fold.

State and federal governments have responded by setting up scholarship funds to encourage people to enter the field, and hospitals have raised salaries (now at an hourly average of about $33 throughout the country) as an incentive, "but it is just not enough," according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

While the number of nursing school graduates is on the rise, increasing 18 percent nationwide from 2005 to 2006, graduation rates would have to double to meet the need, according to the college association, which also said more nursing faculty members are needed.

Throughout the United States, nearly 43,000 potential nursing students were turned away from college programs because the schools didn't have room for them, the colleges association said. In Maryland, where the number of nursing school graduates grew 46 percent between 2001 and 2005, nearly half of the qualified 2006 applicants were turned away.

State shortages in other hospital positions persist, as well. At least nine employment categories, including physician's assistants, had vacancy rates of more than 10 percent in 2006, according to the Maryland Hospital Association.

The Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie has struggled to fill physical-therapist positions, though it's relatively fat and happy when it comes to nurses, employing 600, said spokeswoman Allison Eatough. The hospital, which plans to hire 90 more nurses after a new facility opens in 2009, offers tuition reimbursement and on-site college classes to registered nurses looking to further their careers, as well as a mentorship program for new graduates.

Eatough said the programs help with retention and recruitment.

The hospital association praised such individual efforts, but acknowledged that more was needed in the face of last year's rise in vacancies.

"What we're starting to see is the beginning of the fact that something else has to be done on top of all these things," said spokeswoman Nancy Fiedler. "It's going to take more."


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