ANNAPOLIS – An overwhelming majority of Maryland senators agreed Thursday to find the cure for the disease that’s infecting the state’s entire health care industry – the increasing shortage of qualified nurses.
Legislators passed, 43-1, a bill sponsored by Sen. Paula Hollinger, D- Baltimore County, creating a task force to study the shortage and recommend ways to attract and retain nurses.
Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, was the only senator to vote against the measure. He could not be reached to discuss his vote.
In 1999, Maryland had 2,000 fewer registered nurses than in 1998, as well as a 10 percent decline in nursing school graduates, according to the state’s Board of Nursing. At the same time the demand for nurses to provide home health care and other services, in addition to traditional hospital work, is growing.
Dr. Georges Benjamin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, would chair the committee, which would begin meeting in June, according to the bill.
Task force members also would include the Maryland School of Nursing’s dean, the Maryland Nurses Association president, the Board of Nursing’s executive director, and representatives from the United Seniors of Maryland and the Maryland Patient Advocacy Group.
“Without enough nurses, patients are in serious trouble,” Benjamin said recently in support of the bill.
Hospital patients’ safety is threatened when the few nurses available are often overworked, the medical staff of a local hospital said.
Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville brought attention to the issue when hospital physicians complained in October that patient care was suffering because too few nurses were caring for too many patients.
The physician comments triggered a full-scale inspection of Shady Grove on Feb. 15. A deficient rating by the inspectors could harm the hospital’s license and ability to collect Medicare payments.
The House is still considering an identical bill. However, the idea has Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s support.
“Nurses perform one of society’s most important jobs, working tirelessly to care for our families and keep our children safe and healthy,” Glendening said in a recent statement in support of the task force. “It is critical that we have enough men and women to fill these important positions.”