College responding to shortage of nurses

Carroll school seeks to start training program

March 04, 2001|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

Carroll Community College is in the final stages of winning state approval to begin offering a licensed practical nursing program this fall to try to help alleviate a severe shortage of nurses in the county, college officials said.

The college also is planning to build a new Allied Health and Nursing building and offer a registered nurse program, both by fall 2003, the officials said. Carroll is the only community college in the state without an RN program.

Statistics from the state Board of Nursing show a decline in the number of nurses working and living in Carroll County during the past three years. As of Dec. 31, 1997, there were 860 RNs and 330 LPNs practicing in Carroll and 1,827 RNs and 410 LPNs living in the county. As of Dec. 31, 2000, the numbers were down to 691 RNs and 249 LPNs working in the county, and 1,515 RNs and 319 LPNs living there.

"We're not producing enough nurses now. The baby boomers are growing older and will need more medical care, and many nurses will be retiring," said Craig Clagett, vice president of planning, marketing and assessment at the college on the outskirts of Westminster. "The supply is shrinking and demand is increasing. For every eight people leaving the profession, only three are coming in."

Clagett's office, to justify starting the RN program to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, conducted a statewide assessment of health industry needs and Carroll's nursing needs.

The college found that unfilled RN positions jumped from 3.3 percent in 1997 to 14.7 percent last year.

"We've been dropping off in licensing in the last year," said Sandy Sudeen, chief nurse at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "A lot of it has to do with people retiring or going on to other jobs with more money. With the high employment, people have more selection."

Last year, the General Assembly created the Maryland Commission on the Crisis in Nursing to look at ways to attract people to the field.

Nursing has three levels. Registered nurses, RNs, the highest level, provide medical care and can assess a patient's condition and determine medical care within nursing capacities. Licensed practical nurses, LPNs, work under RNs to provide direct patient care. Certified nursing assistants, CNAs, provide nonmedical patient care under the supervision of an LPN or RN.

The pay also contributes to keeping people out of the profession, many health care professionals said. The mean yearly salary in the Baltimore area in 1998 for RNs was $44,150; for LPNs, $32,640; and for CNAs, $18,210.

Carroll County General Hospital in Westminster has an 8 percent shortage of RNs that is being filled by agencies that hire out nurses for 12 to 15 weeks on a contractual basis.

The hospital is also starting a weekend incentive package that offers extra pay for two weekend shifts to get nurses for hard-to-fill slots. Overtime is available for those who want it.

An 80 percent to 85 percent patient occupancy rate at the hospital compounds the problem.

"It would be nice if we had 15 to 20 more registered nurses," said Leslie Simmons, vice president of patient care services.

Although temporary nurses fill short-term vacancies, "they are very, very expensive and not trained in the intimacies of your particular hospital," Simmons said. "You prefer to have your own staff."

Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville closed a 24-bed, long-term care unit in fall, largely because of the nursing shortage, said Paula Langmead, chief executive officer. The hospital still has 290 inpatient beds and 50 assisted-living beds.

"Right now we're stabilized. We have enough positions to staff all the wards we currently staff, but if someone calls in sick or puts in for emergency leave, we have a large hole to fill," she said.

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