- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

ANNAPOLIS A survey of Maryland hospitals reveals the shortage of nurses increased in 2001 for the third year in a row, forcing many hospitals to scramble to maintain services and provide patient care.
With more than 2,000 vacancies, some hospitals are asking registered nurses to work extra hours and are making more use of part-time nurses, Catherine Crowley, an assistant vice president of the Maryland Hospital Association, said yesterday
The nursing shortage has also forced hospitals in some cases to postpone elective surgery and temporarily close emergency rooms, sending patients to other hospitals, she said.
While it hasn't been easy, hospitals have been able to maintain the quality of patient care, Miss Crowley said. "We feel confident saying patients should feel comfortable going to the hospital and getting the care they need."
The shortage of health care workers goes beyond nursing, and the 2001 survey estimated about 4,000 positions were vacant in Maryland's 59 hospitals and health systems.
The vacancy rate was higher for radiation therapy technologists and nuclear medicine technologists 21 percent and 18 percent respectively.
The rate for nursing was 15.6 percent, up from 13.9 percent in 2000 and 11 percent the year before. There was no survey in 1998, and the vacancy rate for nurses was just 3.3 percent in 1997.
Nancy Fiedler, spokeswoman for the hospital association, said health care is the fastest growing segment of the economy. Nationally, about 3.1 million new jobs are expected to be created by 2010, while retirements will create about 2.2 million vacancies.
The 2001 survey showed the vacancy rate was above 10 percent in 18 of 42 job categories in Maryland.
"At a 7 percent vacancy rate, a hospital is usually very comfortable," Miss Crowley said. "We can accommodate vacations, people getting sick. We can roll with just about anything."
"Once you get to 10 percent, you are starting to pass the flexibility threshold. At 13 percent and above, it's really tough."
Nursing remains the area of most concern in Maryland and nationally.
Miss Crowley said the outlook is clouded by the fact that there will be large numbers of nurses retiring over the next 10 years while the nation's population is aging and will be needing more medical care.
But there are also some encouraging signs.
"Our schools are doing a good job of increasing enrollment," Miss Crowley said. "We have a lot of qualified applicants seeking admission."
So far, hospitals have been able to maintain the quality of patient care, she said. "How long we can do that is something we watch continually."


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