- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2002

Several area hospitals are battling the nationwide nursing shortage by hiring expensive contract and per diem nurses and importing trained nurses from foreign countries, such as the Philippines, that have an abundance of nurses desperate to relocate to the United States.
Filipino nurses are so eager to work stateside that they often work 40-hour weeks for two years with no pay in their homeland to gain the experience U.S. hospitals require, said Molly Billingsley, assistant vice president of operations support at Georgetown University Hospital.
Georgetown University Hospital is one of several local hospitals that have turned to Filipino nurses to help ease shortages. It has hired about 20 Filipino nurses and has another 60 in the pipeline.
"We've had very good luck with Filipino nurses," Mrs. Billingsley said, noting that they fare well on state board exams and are consistently enthusiastic and excited about their work.
The nurses can increase their annual pay from $2,400 at home to an average $42,133 in the United States.
Published reports show other local hospitals including the Washington Hospital Center, George Washington University Medical Center and Shady Grove Adventist hospitals also have recruited foreign nurses.
At Providence Hospital in Northeast, per diem nurses, who work per day, and contract nurses, who work for 13-week stints, help ease the chronic shortage, especially in specialty areas such as emergency and intensive care unit, said Gaurdia Banister, the hospital's vice president of nursing.
Hiring per diem nurses through temporary agencies is expensive, hospital officials say. Agencies typically charge $70 to $80 an hour per nurse, the equivalent of about a $166,000 annual full-time salary. Agency nurses generally earn about half the fee, about $40 an hour.
Nancy Fiedler, spokeswoman for the Maryland Hospital Association, said contractual arrangements cost at least 1 times more than hiring nurses full time, forcing hospitals to hire from abroad.
Georgetown also hires contract nurses for 13-week periods through ads in local or regional newspapers.
"If they give us three [12-hour] shifts a week for 13 weeks, we put them up in a hotel," the Georgetown administrator said. She said the hospital also offers refresher courses for nurses who have been out of service for many years.
National surveys indicate hospitals are averaging 11 percent to 14 percent vacancy rates in nursing positions. Surveys show the District at a 14 percent vacancy rate, Virginia at 11 percent and Maryland at 15 percent.
Ms. Fiedler said the state's shortage has increased fivefold in the past three years.
The average vacancy rate rose from 3 percent in 1999 to 9 percent in 2000, then climbed to 12 percent in 2001.
Besides recruiting abroad, local hospitals are combing nursing schools nationwide to lure graduates, offering scholarships to aspiring nurses and building reputations by purchasing technology to lighten workloads.
A wealth of technology "that's really helpful in freeing up time for nurses" has been key to Anne Arundel Medical Center's ability to recruit and keep nurses, said Sharan Lee Biedle, a registered nurse and the hospital's nurse recruitment coordinator.
She cited the Par Excellence computer system used to "stock, charge and replace all medical supplies, so nurses are not running around looking for supplies that were not replaced."
Another example she cited is the Pevco tube system, which delivers specimens and prescriptions so nurses don't have to."
The hospital, whose nurse vacancy rate is below 9 percent, also is computerizing all paperwork, which has been a time-consuming task for nurses.
Building a reputation as a work-friendly environment also has become essential to successful recruiting.
Georgetown Hospital is "going for magnet status" in an effort to lure more nurses and student nurses, Mrs. Billingsley said.
"That's the highest accolade afforded by the American Nursing Credentialing Committee. There are only 57 magnet hospitals in the world, and it demonstrates you are a nurses' hospital."
Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church is the only magnet hospital in the Washington metropolitan area. "We'll be the only one in D.C.," Mrs. Billingsley said.

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