ANNAPOLIS – A nursing shortage could be jeopardizing patient care throughout Maryland, a condition that has lawmakers seeking a remedy.
The Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee heard a bill Wednesday sponsored by Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, to create a committee to study the issue.
Sponsors of an identical House bill, Delegates Marilyn Goldwater, D- Montgomery, and Adrienne Mandel, D-Montgomery, held a news conference Wednesday at the Anne Arundel Medical Center to push for the idea.
In 1999, there were 2,000 fewer registered nurses than in the previous year, as well as a 10 percent decline in nursing school graduates, according to the Maryland Board of Nursing.
With the average age of nurses at 45, younger people are needed to enter the field, Hollinger said.
“Without enough nurses, patients are in serious trouble,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Nursing shortages have occurred before, Benjamin said, but were usually solved by “throwing a little money at it.”
This shortage is more serious, affecting all aspects of the health care system, Goldwater said.
Hospitals, where the majority of nurses work, home health care services and assisted-living facilities are feeling the shortage most acutely.
The lack of nurses has affected emergency service as well, said Robert Bass, director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems. When the shortage causes hospitals to close beds, ambulances are forced to carry sick patients long distances.
“I don’t know what they do in rural areas, where the nearest hospital may be so far away it’s just not practical,” Bass said.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening backs efforts to increase the state’s nursing force.
“Nurses perform one of society’s most important jobs, working tirelessly to care for our families and keep our children safe and healthy,” he said in a statement. “It is critical that we have enough men and women to fill these important positions.”
If the bill passes, the committee would begin meeting in June, recommending ways to attract more people to the profession and to keep nurses in the field. The first report is expected in six months, Goldwater said.
Hollinger and Goldwater are two of five nurses in the General Assembly. Hollinger called herself a “guilty party,” leaving her career as an emergency room nurse to serve in the legislature.
At the bill hearing, Hollinger said nursing lost some of its attractiveness as a profession through new career opportunities for women. Low pay, too many hours, and a lack of respect have also led to the decline, she said.
“We need to project nursing as a positive, professional-image profession,” Mandel said.
The Board of Nursing will fund the committee, said spokeswoman Donna Dorsey.
– 30 – CNS-2-23-00