Maryland’s hospitals went into the 2022 legislative session searching for solutions to the local and national health care workforce shortage — and came out with $80 million and a number of “key wins,” lobbyists said.
Divided between $30 million allocated to hospital workforce recruitment and retention in the governor’s initial budget and $50 million in the supplemental budget, the money will be used for various retention programs — including bonuses, trainings, student loan repayments and other initiatives that could encourage nurses and other health care workers to stay at their jobs.
The state has long suffered from shortages of these workers. But over the course of the pandemic an increasing number left their jobs due to burnout, opportunities in other sectors or at a travel nursing agency, and retirement, among other reasons.
The $30 million is being distributed, while plans for the remaining $50 million are currently being ironed out, to be distributed in the summer.
“We modeled this program off of what we saw in neighboring states, so it should be directly used for recruitment and retention of staff,” said Nicole Stallings, the Maryland Hospital Association’s chief external affairs officer and senior vice president for government affairs and policy.
The association was also successful in passing legislation that will create a commission dedicated to studying the state’s health workforce shortage. Although health care worker shortages were common prior to COVID-19 and have been studied before, Stallings said this work group will help bring together the many different state agencies who need to be involved in addressing the crisis.
“We believe this puts the appropriate focus on the crisis and also creates some accountability by convening the individuals who will have a hand in the solution around the same table,” she said.
According to the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Pamela Beidle, D-Anne Arundel, in the Senate, and Del. Ariana Kelly, D-Montgomery, in the House, the commission will be tasked with looking into “extent of the workforce shortage, short–term solutions to the workforce shortage, future health care workforce needs, and the relationship between the Maryland Department of Health and the health occupations boards.”
Several other bills were passed that aim to increase the number of physicians, nurses and other health care workers practicing in Maryland. One will extend the Maryland’s inclusion in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, a multistate agreement that allows physicians to practice across different states, making it easier for out-of-state physicians to work in Maryland, from 2027 to 2030.
The bill was a priority for the Maryland State Medical Society, or MedChi, an advocacy organization for the state’s physicians.
Gene Ransom, MedChi’s CEO, said that, in the years since Maryland first joined the compact, “it’s been working rather well. Hopefully it can be expanded and more people will take advantage of it now that they know it will be in effect longer.”
Also allocated in the fiscal year 2023 budget is $7.4 million toward repaying the student loans of physicians, physician assistants and nurses, another measure that lobbyists hope will encourage health workers to come to Maryland or stay in the state if they completed their training here.
One bill that sought to curb the health worker shortage, Governor Larry Hogan’s Health Care Heroes Act, did not make it out of committee in either chamber. The legislation sought to make it possible for the secretary of health to declare a health care staffing emergency as needed, allowing hospitals the flexibility to expedite licenses for retired health care practitioners, practitioners licensed in other states, and nursing graduates — all measures used to expand who could work in hospitals during the pandemic.
While the measure did not pass, MHA is grateful for other measures, like the $80 million allocation for recruitment and retention, that will serve a similar purpose.
“I think the legislature recognized that when you support the health care workforce, you’re supporting improved outcomes and really supporting a health community,” Stallings said.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Health Care Heroes Act was MHA’s bill. The bill was Governor Hogan’s.