Business Digest

BUSINESS DIGEST

July 07, 2005

In the Region

Average cost of hospital stay up 9% in Md.

The cost of the average hospital stay in Maryland rose 9 percent in the fiscal year ending in June 2004, the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission reported yesterday.

That's a faster rate of increase than the national rate, which was about 6 percent over the same period, according to the commission. Maryland's rate-controlled system has beaten the national rate most years, and the average Maryland charge, $8,403 in fiscal 2004, remains about 4 percent below the national average of about $8,750.

State regulators approved rate increases for hospitals above the projected inflation rate for three years in a row, to let hospitals build up cash reserves and finance capital projects. Also, cases are becoming more complex, adding 1.7 percentage points to the average cost above the state-approved rate increase.

Rate of nurse vacancies decreased slightly last year

The supply of registered nurses has improved, but there are shortages of other hospital staff, such as respiratory therapists and lab technicians, according to an annual staffing survey released yesterday by the Maryland Hospital Association.

The survey found a nurse vacancy rate of 9.2 percent in 2004, down from 10.8 percent in 2003. The survey also found that hospitals were able to hire nurses for most positions, reducing the use of agency nurses to 6.1 percent from 8.4 percent in 2003.

The vacancy rate for respiratory therapists, however, was 17 percent, and for physical therapists, 16.2 percent. The largest increase in vacancy rates was for lab technicians, to 13.1 percent in 2004 from 4.3 percent in 2003.

Elsewhere

Alltel acquisition of Western Wireless gets tentative OK

The Justice Department yesterday tentatively approved Alltel Corp.'s $4.4 billion acquisition of Western Wireless Corp. on condition that Alltel divest some of its rural properties.

Little Rock-based Alltel would have to sell assets in Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska that it would get from Western in order to proceed with the deal. Alltel also will have to shed the Cellular One service mark it would pick up in the acquisition.

Alltel said the acquisition was to be completed this summer, although approval is still pending from the Federal Communications Commission, and the Justice Department must give final certification. Western Wireless shareholders are to vote on the proposed deal July 29.

GE finance arm to buy CIT Group's aircraft assets

GE Commercial Finance, a financial services arm of General Electric Co., said yesterday that it agreed to buy about $1 billion in aircraft assets from CIT Group Inc., a provider of commercial and consumer finance services.

The sale of a majority of the assets closed June 30, and the rest of the sold assets will be transferred during the third quarter. Terms were not disclosed. GE said the acquisition expands its corporate aircraft market reach, diversifies its customer base and creates additional cross-selling opportunities.

ExpressJet reaches deal with flight attendants

ExpressJet Airlines has reached a tentative four-year pact with its 1,200 flight attendants, their union said yesterday.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said the potential deal includes pay raises of up to 35 percent over four years, an enhanced 401(k) plan, and job security and scheduling improvements. Flight attendants for Houston-based ExpressJet can vote on the pact through July 24.

ExpressJet is the regional jet provider for Continental Airlines, also based in Houston. The union also represents Continental's 9,000 flight attendants, who remain in talks with that carrier about a plan to cut wages and benefits.

This column was compiled from reports by Sun staff writers, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News.

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