The state of Maryland has recently been experiencing nursing shortages at many levels due to low pay and the new proposed health department budget aims to correct this issue. Several health department facilities in the state are in desperate need of new nurses, but the wages haven’t been competitive enough to attract new applicants. The budget would give all nurses working in health department facilities an 11.5% raise if it stays intact, which could help boost retention rates and attract qualified nurses from within the state and from other states in the country.
All State Workers to Receive Raises as Well
While state department nurses stand to benefit the most from the rise, other state workers will receive cost-of-living raises and bonuses totaling 5.5%. Nurses and a few select positions will get a one pay grade raise in Larry Hogan’s budget, as it was reported by state analysts.
The pay raise and additional benefits were enacted in order to deal with the high vacancy rates that are currently plaguing the department, especially when it comes to direct-care positions. The department is also experiencing shortages at intermediate and supervisor levels as well.
The department hopes these raises and benefits will encourage more nurses to pursue their education so they can fill these leadership roles. Fortunately, the advent of an online MSN program makes it easier than ever for nurses to further their education while filling their positions. The department has also added tuition reimbursements and student loan repayments for qualifying employees over a 10-year period to their benefits package to encourage further education.
Vacancy Rates are Rising at an Alarming Rate
The new budget comes at a critical time since vacancy rates in the department have been increasing at an unprecedented rate for the last few years. As a matter of fact, the total vacancy rates in the department has almost doubled from 7.25% in 2014 to 14% in 2018. That is a scary trajectory that needed to be addressed immediately. Not to mention that the health budget will also be adding 142 positions that will need to be filled. One of the departments that are experiencing the most vacancies is the Developmental Disabilities Administration, which counts for about 15% of all vacancies.
In addition to nurses, mental health counselors, drug and alcohol counselors, psychiatrists, and epidemiologist are also set to get salary adjustments. In an effort to better compete with private employers in the sector, the state will also be expanding its benefits package for direct care workers. These benefits should greatly help retention difficulties and recruitment issues the department is experiencing at the ground level.
AFSCME Questions Proposals
The AFSCME still questions some of these proposals and whether they will change the conditions in the department for the better. In a recent hearing, a representative for the federation stated that nurses often have to work double shifts in order to fill the shortages. She also stated that nurses in psychiatric institutions like the 250 bed Clifton Perkins Hospital were experiencing dangerous conditions due to understaffing.
It is still not guaranteed that these budget changes will help fill these nursing gaps, and while they would be better remunerated, nurses would still have to deal with the work burden and dangers associated with shortages.
Jacqueline Caldwell, who serves as regional president for the AFSCME stated that the psychiatric hospital where she currently works has trouble keeping new staff and has now become a training ground. Robert Baldwin, who works as secretary-treasurer for the federation also states that he’s dealing with severe issues at his psychiatric center. He stated that the hospital is not only understaffed but that nurses have to work in close quarters with patients that could be potentially dangerous since the center admits many convicts.
He stated that psychiatric workers needed equal and fair compensation for the amount of work they do and the conditions they have to deal with if they ever want to have a chance at actually retaining new talent. Senator Guy Guzzone, who was presiding over the hearings, went out of his way to thank the participants and stated that they will be addressing work condition issues and come with concrete solutions and proper compensation.
While the state’s health department is still not out of the water, the new budget seems like a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this will allow the department to restaff critical positions and alleviate some of the workload of their most important workers.