Hospital association seeks to double state’s nursing student enrollment in 2009

Maryland’s hospitals are suffering from a “fundamental inequity in the marketplace” when it comes to level of demand and supply of registered nurses, according to Cal Pierson, president of the Maryland Hospital Association.

The Maryland Hospital Association and health care advocates are launching a campaign to double the number of nursing students in Maryland, beginning in 2009, Pierson told members of the GBC Healthcare Committee at its February 12 meeting.

“The number of nurses in Maryland is growing, but not fast enough,” Pierson said.

Hospitals address much of the shortage by hiring “travelers,” nurses from elsewhere who contract through agencies to work for a period of time in Maryland at an elevated price. The cost of hiring “travelers” is often 50 percent more than the cost of hiring a Maryland-trained nurse who resides in Maryland. For instance, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, budgets as much as $20 million a year for “travelers,” according to Pierson.

If existing trends continue, Maryland’s current shortage of almost 10,000 full-time equivalent nurses will increase to almost 13,000 by 2015. However, if Maryland can double the number of nursing student enrollment in Maryland starting in 2009, the result would be a “more manageable” 8 percent shortage of 5,000 nurses or less by 2016, he says.

The association’s goal is to increase first-year nursing student enrollment by 1,800 in 2009 and maintain the increased class size indefinitely. That would result in an annual increase of Maryland nursing program graduates from the existing level of 2,000 per year to 3,500 per year, according to estimates.

To meet that goal, the hospital association will work to address key challenges that currently limit student enrollment, including an insufficient number of nurses prepared for and interested in faculty positions, and existing below market faculty compensation. Other challenges include limited funding sources for nursing programs and limited availability of clinical sites in hospitals for out-of-classroom training.

The estimated five-year cost of the Maryland Hospital Association’s proposal to reduce the nursing shortage is $135 million — $34 million the first year and $25 million per year after that. However, the initiative would save health care facilities an average of $50 million per year beginning in the third year, according to Pierson’s estimates.

The association is seeking $50 million in funding for this initiative from health care providers and $20 million from other private-sector sources to help finance the effort. Additional funding will be sought from government sources, according to Pierson.

Maryland Hospital Association’s PowerPoint presentation on the state’s nursing shortage.

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