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Nurse shortage hits hospitals

August 29, 2000

Nurse shortage hits hospitals



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


A state commission is looking for a remedy for a nursing shortage in Maryland hospitals.

The Commission on the Crisis in Nursing, created this year by the Maryland General Assembly, will meet for the first time today in Baltimore.

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The Association of Maryland Hospitals & Health Systems (MHA) said that in the first quarter of this year, 14.7 percent of hospital nursing positions statewide were vacant.

Catherine M. Crowley, an assistant vice president for MHA, said the rate is up from 3.3 percent in 1997.

The vacancy and turnover rates are the highest in at least 10 years, according to the MHA.

At Washington County Health Systems Inc., which owns Washington County Hospital, the problem is less urgent, said Brooks McBurney, the vice president of human resources.

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The vacancy rate at Washington County Hospital was 5.2 percent in 1999 and rose to 5.8 percent in the first quarter of this year, he said.

If 10.6 full-time-equivalent positions added in July are included, the current rate increases to about 7.3 percent, McBurney said.

Still, the challenge of finding new nurses and keeping current ones is worrisome.

"I would not want to underplay the crisis, although we're coping well with it," said Mary Towe, the executive for nursing at Washington County Health Systems.

The 46-member Commission on the Crisis in Nursing plans to study shortcomings in recruitment, retention and education.

Potential solutions, listed at the Maryland Board of Nursing's Web site, include a state-funded campaign to promote nursing's image, tax rebates for nursing students and more flexible schedules.

A big consideration, Towe said, is that the average age of a registered nurse in Maryland is about 47. First-year RNs are, on average, almost 30 years old, she said.

At the same time, fewer people 18 to 22 years old are getting jobs of any kind, McBurney said.

Washington County Hospital has fared well because of incentives like higher pay for weekend and night shifts, McBurney said.

Laurie Shinham, an associate professor of nursing at Hagerstown Community College, said that women, still dominant in nursing, are finding new opportunities in nonhealth fields like engineering.

According to the MHA, the shortage is "largely due to more nurses retiring than graduating from nursing programs."

Shinham said that the enrollment in HCC's nursing programs has remained steady, but the school is receiving fewer applications.

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