Nursing scarcity worsens in Md.

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Nursing scarcity worsens in Md.

Survey identifies shortages of various hospital professionals

By Jennifer Dorroh

Sun Staff

Originally published June 27, 2001

Maryland's nursing shortage intensified last year, and shortages of other health care professionals became more severe, according to the results of a survey released yesterday by the Association of Maryland Hospitals and Health Systems.

Up to 3,679 health care workers, including as many as 1,680 registered nurses, are needed to fill vacant positions statewide, the survey indicated.

The survey "shows a very serious and growing shortage of hospital personnel," said association President Cal Pierson.

The survey, which included responses from 47 of Maryland's 50 hospitals, found that 13.5 percent of hospital nursing jobs went unfilled across the state last year, up from 10.8 percent in 1999.

There is a particular scarcity of registered nurses, according to the survey, with nearly 1,700 positions unfilled.

The percentage of jobs for registered nurses going unfilled rose from 11 percent in 1999 to 13.9 percent last year, the survey said.

According to the state Board of Nursing, the number of registered nurses licensed and living in Maryland increased by 1,190 last year, not nearly enough to offset the loss of 2,335 nurses in 1999.

Shortages among allied health professionals also shot up. In the 47 hospitals, between 60 and 70 radiology positions, or 17.1 percent, and 50 pharmacy jobs, or 12.3 percent, went unfilled last year, said association spokeswoman Nancy Fiedler.

Although the lack of personnel in these fields is not as severe as the shortage of nurses, association Assistant Vice President Catherine Crowley said any vacancy in these areas can create problems for patients.

"The loss of even one radiographer, lab tech or pharmacist can seriously slow a hospital's ability to conduct tests and get results back to patients," Crowley said.

The association called for the state Health Services Cost Review Commission to allow hospitals to raise the prices they charge patients.

This would allow them to raise wages until they reach an "equilibrium between supply and demand," said association Senior Vice President Robert Fischer, who is president of LifeBridge Health.

The average cost of a hospital admission in Maryland is $6,639, about 2 percent lower than the national average, Fiedler said.

Mary Beachley, president of the Maryland Nurses Association, agreed that the profession will continue to lose nurses unless salaries increase.

While starting pay might be sufficient, "there's a salary compression" at higher levels, she said.

"Nurses who don't become administrators and continue to give bedside care don't get adequate raises," she said.

In the meantime, hospitals will continue to use strategies such as giving bonuses for overtime and using agency nurses to fill staffing gaps. Some, such as LifeBridge, are recruiting nurses overseas.

Fischer said the company has recruited 150 nurses from the Philippines who will arrive in the United States next year.

Copyright © 2001, The Baltimore Sun

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