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Proposed legislation may help nursing shortage crisis

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on December 22, 2001:

Senator Dyson Nurses are some of our most invaluable public servants. However, retaining them is getting increasingly worse and this is extremely troubling. While this is not good news, some legislation being proposed may solves some of the problem.

But first, the bad news. There is no doubt that there is a serious nursing shortage not only in Southern Maryland, but throughout the state. This has been a growing problem that finally caused legislation to be passed in 1999 creating the Statewide Commission on the Crisis in Nursing. Made up of nurses, consumers, legislators and others, the 52-member commission will approve then present a report of their progress to Senators and Delegates during this upcoming General Assembly Session. It may serve as a blueprint for legislation to be introduced to address the growing shortage of nurses in Maryland

Already, two bills are set to be introduced due to findings of the committee. One will address a nurse’s right to avoid repercussions if they report mismanagement at a hospital or health care facility. Currently, nurses have no rights against recrimination if they “blow the whistle” on poor conditions.

Another bill will address the question of mandatory overtime. Today, Maryland nurses are often forced to work shifts of eight to 24 hours of mandatory overtime after their regular shift without extra pay.

There is also talk of lowering the academic criteria for nursing scholarships. Instead of mandating that nursing students have grade point averages of 3.0 or higher to receive a scholarship, there is talk of lowering that since grade point averages encompass all classes, not just nursing courses. Many potentially qualified nurses may not receive financial aid because of this stringent requirement. We need to be encouraging people to get into the nursing field, not discouraging them.

Why is encouragement essential?

In 1995, 22,423 registered nurses graduated in the United States. In 2000, there were 18,720 RN graduates, a 17 percent decrease in a heavily growing population. Locally, the College of Southern Maryland -- which is noted for its outstanding nursing program -- graduated 58 RNs in 1997. This year, 49 graduated, a 16 percent decrease.

Southern Maryland hospitals have nursing turnovers ranging from 11.6 to 17 percent (17 percent at Civista; 12.2 at Calvert and 11.6 at St. Mary’s.

There are many contributing factors for the nursing shortage, among them: an aging workforce (the average age of a nurse is 46); competing career alternatives, wages which have only kept pace with the rate of inflation and workplace environment.

The Commission has heard an alarmingly high number of complaints by nurses who have been verbally abused by doctors, many times in front of patients. Others complain doctors are condescending, rude and do not appreciate the pressures nurses face on a daily basis.

The hours, stress and overwork are also a workplace concern. Overwork causes nurses to miss bathroom, meal or rest breaks because demand is so great, the Commission has heard repeatedly. Mandatory overtime has been reported to be one of the most major problems facing nursing. As good as they are at doing their jobs, nurses can’t possibly be at their best working 16-24 hour shifts.

Aging nurses are having problems with the physical demands of the job and aren’t getting any help.

Why should someone who is not a nurse care about these problems?

There are many reasons. One has been mentioned. The quality of care given by an overworked nurse is often below-par. It’s just common sense. Anyone, no matter how qualified, who is overworked cannot perform to their highest standards every minute. Also, lack of nurses means longer lines in the waiting rooms and in hospital beds. People are living longer so the need for long-term care is increasing rapidly, yet nurse retention is decreasing just as rapidly. Additionally, the Commission has discovered that nurses in long-term care facilities are some of the worst paid in the field.

Morale among nurses is widely reported to be terrible because of all of the problems they encounter. Many are throwing up their hands and just saying: “I quit.” Do you blame them? Alternative careers such as going on to medical school, engineering or information systems are drawing potential nurses.

So while redistricting and other controversial issues will dominate the news during the 2002 General Assembly Session, what we as a body do to encourage nurse retention will be of supreme significance. We cannot drop the ball on this issue this Session.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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