Nurse vacancy rate 15.6% at Md. hospitals last year

More are employed, but the patient load continues to rise

May 14, 2002|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Maryland's nurse shortage has worsened, with a 15.6 percent vacancy rate last year for hospital nurse positions, according to a survey of state hospitals released yesterday by the Maryland Hospital Association.

That compares with a 13.9 percent vacancy rate in 2000 and is a higher vacancy rate than in the late 1980s, a previous period of shortage, when the vacancy rate reached about 13 percent, according to the MHA. As recently as 1997, the survey found a vacancy rate of 3.3 percent.

Catherine Crowley, assistant vice president of the MHA, said state data showed about 5 percent more nurses working last year than in 2000 but that the increase hadn't kept up with hospitals' desire to add staff members to deal with more and sicker patients.

Vacancies, Crowley said, don't mean nursing shifts go uncovered, but they do mean overtime or nurses from fill-in agencies, either of which adds to costs for hospitals.

Nursing school enrollments have increased in the past few years, as rising salaries and scholarships have enticed students, Crowley said, but the shortage hasn't eased because people who have enrolled in nursing schools over the past few years have yet to complete their training.

The supply of nurses in the pipeline might not be sufficient to replace those expected to retire, Crowley said.

In addition, she said, "demographics will overtake us" as aging baby boomers fill more hospital beds by the end of the decade.

The state has a commission studying the nurse supply.

The survey also found shortages in other job categories. The highest reported vacancy rate was 21 percent for radiation therapy technologists.

In all, according to the survey, 18 of the 42 job categories included had vacancy rates of 10 percent or more.

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