After Plan to Help Nursing Shortage, Health Care Groups Say Existing Workforce Needs More Support

Essential Workers photo.

Organizations representing Maryland health care workers say that in light of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s plans to expand nursing personnel in health care facilities, more action is needed to sufficiently quell the shortage of health care workers across the state as the pandemic wears on.

“There are a wide variety of issues related to the current nursing strain including monetary incentives to work outside the state or in travel positions, burnout, and child and elder care needs,” Bob Atlas, President and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, said in a statement. “We appreciate that the Governor and Health Secretary made these much-needed changes and recognized the crisis staffing situation — the worst in over 570 days of fighting the pandemic — our hospitals are currently facing.”

“Every bit of relief helps, but more action is necessary for hospitals to continue to operate 24/7 saving lives,” Atlas said.

Lisa Brown, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers, said that Hogan’s proposed policy doesn’t address issues that Maryland’s existing health care workers are facing.

“The solutions to this shortage include robust hazard pay in the short term, and in the long term, strict oversight of healthcare facilities, as well as funding for family-sustaining wages, benefits, and career-advancing training for all healthcare workers,” Brown said Friday.

As of Friday morning, 772 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment in Maryland. The state is experiencing a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, with 1,363 new cases and 14 deaths reported Friday.

Hogan (R) announced the proposals this week to increase the state’s nursing capacity in an effort to help hospitals that are feeling the sting of staffing shortages. The state’s plan includes permitting out-of-state practical nurses and registered nurses to practice in Maryland during the federal COVID-19 public health emergency declaration.

According to a news release, the Maryland Board of Nursing supports the decision, which was announced in a notice from Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader on Wednesday.

“While our hospitalizations remain well below all of our pandemic surge capacity triggers, we are taking proactive steps to maximize the ability of our hospitals to increase their nursing workforce,” Hogan said in a statement.

Schrader suggested that hospitals recruit staff from states involved in the nurse licensure compact, which allows nurses to practice in multiple states with one license.

He has also permitted doctors to delegate COVID-19 treatment and care to assistants that don’t hold licenses provided by the Board of Physicians.

At the pandemic’s start, several nursing schools partnered with the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Maryland Board of Nursing to allow some students to take their nursing exams and gain licensure early.

In a letter sent Thursday, Maryland Secretary of Higher Education James D. Fielder requested that deans and faculty members from the state’s nursing programs implement the same policy during the 2021 Fall semester.

Fielder clarified that allowing nursing students to leave their programs early would not change curriculum requirements but would allow colleges to “consider innovative strategies,” like mandating full-day classes towards the end of the semester, allowing students to take their final exams early and offering expedited graduation to people with a grade point average of 3.9 or higher.

“We must maintain that the nursing field is of high-quality and that students are aptly prepared to enter into the workforce,” Fielder wrote.

Schrader also sent a letter to leadership at Maryland hospitals and nursing homes Thursday, giving them the flexibility to employ students studying to be nurses, certified nursing assistants and physicians assistants.

“We have worked closely with our hospitals, healthcare associations, and many others in the state on this solution that will further our ability to continue to provide quality care to Marylanders,” Schrader said in a statement. “Nurses and student nurses have been invaluable in our fight against COVID-19 and so much more and these steps will ensure that hospitals can use all available nursing solutions.”

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