Maryland hospitals face ‘most critical staffing shortage in recent memory,’ report says

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Maryland hospitals are struggling to cope with a significant shortage of nurses and the problem is certain to worsen unless steps are taken to recruit newcomers to the profession and retain existing workers, according to a new report.

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Maryland hospitals are struggling to cope with a significant shortage of nurses and the problem is certain to worsen unless steps are taken to recruit newcomers to the profession and retain existing workers, according to a new report.

The 2022 Maryland State Health Workforce Report, released Monday by the Maryland Hospital Association, found that one in four nursing positions are vacant.

“Maryland hospitals are facing the most critical staffing shortages in recent memory, according to the association. “High staff turnover, changing care delivery models and an insufficient talent pool are pushing the workforce to an unsustainable point.”

Maryland is currently short of 5,000 full-time registered nurses and 4,000 licensed practical nurses. If steps are not taken to attract new workers and reduce the number of nurses leaving the profession, the state could see shortages two to three times greater than current levels by 2035, the report said.

“The workforce challenges we face are unsustainable,” said Nicole Stallings, MHA’s external affairs manager.

The report cites several main factors for skyrocketing vacancy rates. Nurses are overworked, deal with occasional violence in the workplace, and feel undervalued.

“Workforce challenges predate the COVID-19 pandemic, but the situation is now alarming,” association CEO Bob Atlas said in a statement. “Any threat to the workforce of our 60 hospitals and healthcare systems threatens the health and well-being of all Marylanders and the stability of our state’s essential functions. We cannot take for granted that our excellent healthcare staff will always be there.

Stallings said the association hopes the report offers a roadmap for institutions, educators and policymakers. The shortage of nurses is expected to worsen as the baby boom generation ages, she said.

The report found that the most populated parts of the state have the highest vacancy rates. Central Maryland, which includes the Baltimore metropolitan area, and suburban Washington, DC, have vacancy rates just over 26%. In southern and western Maryland and on the east coast, vacancy rates are between 13% and 17%.

Many nurses chose to work for agencies, as “travelling nurses,” moving from hospital to hospital, often earning more money and working fewer hours. This phenomenon has driven up hospital costs while increasing the workload of the remaining staff, which in turn fuels the exodus.

The report makes a number of recommendations:

  • Hospitals should consider adopting more worker-friendly schedules, shifts and roles
  • Security policies need to be strengthened
  • Career advancement opportunities for nurses should be expanded
  • Hospitals should streamline the administrative burden nurses face
  • Hospitals should expand the ‘pipeline’ by offering stipends and other financial incentives to people considering a career in nursing
  • Hospitals should make it easier for military nurses and those who have received overseas training to get credentialed in Maryland
  • Hospitals should increase the number of nursing instructors and the capacity of nursing schools
  • State policymakers should promote telehealth, ambulatory care and “hospital at home” models

“This data-driven report lays the foundation to address the longstanding and now urgent need to strengthen our network of nurses in Maryland,” said Ed Lovern, President and CEO of Ascension Saint Agnes and President of the Maryland task force. Future Health Workforce, in a statement.

“While we won’t solve the nursing shortage overnight, the Task Force urges immediate and concerted action to build the health care workforce we will need for generations to come.

Stallings said 20% of nursing students drop out after the first semester. Figuring out how to reduce that decline could help address the overall staffing shortage, she said.

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