Despite intensive recruiting efforts, Maryland hospitals continue to wrestle with critically high shortages of nurses and other personnel, the Maryland Hospital Association said yesterday.
The vacancy rate for nursing positions at Maryland hospitals stood at 12.6 percent last year, according to an association survey released yesterday. Though down from a high of 15.6 percent in 2001, that means a shortage of 1,900 full-time nurses.
Shortages were more severe for radiation therapy technologists, with 21.5 percent of positions vacant, and respiratory therapy technicians, at 19.1 percent. Demand for both of those services has been growing, said Catherine Crowley, vice president of the association.
Seventeen of the 42 positions surveyed had vacancy rates of more than 10 percent, a rate that has been largely consistent over the past four years, Crowley said. Once vacancies top 10 percent, staffing is harder to manage and more employees are asked to work overtime, Crowley said.
The 52 hospitals and health systems represented by the state association spent $241 million to hire temporary nurses last year, an increase from $50.8 million in 1998.
The association credited a push by hospitals in Maryland to recruit and retain nurses, the largest group of hospital staff members, with helping to shave three points off the vacancy rate last year.
The lackluster economy and weak stock market also helped, experts said. Some nurses decided against retiring; some part-timers converted to full time; and some who had left returned to work.
Still, the nursing shortage has increased over the past five years. In 1997, the vacancy rate for nursing positions was 3.3 percent.
Nursing shortages typically run in short cycles, but this latest one "feels a little bit more like a longer-term shortage," said Katherine McCullough, a senior vice president at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
The Center for Health Workforce Development at the University of Maryland, Baltimore projects a shortage of 17,116 nurses by 2012 in Maryland as demand for health services grows.
People are living longer and requiring more care, and that will increase as baby boomers, the largest segment of the population, grow older. In addition, with the average age of nurses in Maryland at about 48, many are nearing retirement.
And it's getting harder to replace retiring nurses. Nursing remains a female-dominated profession, and women today have many more career choices than they did decades ago, McCullough said.
Even so, said Crowley, nursing schools are not able to accommodate all qualified applicants. Last year, nursing schools in Maryland turned away 600 potential students because they didn't have the classroom space and teachers, Crowley said. State budget cuts will make it harder to expand schools, she said.