By CBS Baltimore Staff

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland’s hospitals face a workforce shortage preventing them from keeping up with an unprecedented demand for care, the Maryland Hospital Association said Tuesday.

The organization said even though it’s pleased to see COVID-19 hospitalizations are declining, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitals are treating remains high, and they’re also caring for non-COVID patients. The group said hospitals are “struggling to manage the volume of patients amid a historic workforce shortage.”

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Notably, Maryland’s hospitals have more than 3,900 nursing vacancies, a 50% increase in unfilled jobs since late August, according to MHA’s figures.

Maryland is 28 days into a 30-day state of emergency issued by Gov. Larry Hogan in response to elevated hospitalizations. He also issued an executive order aimed at shoring up the medical workforce by allowing graduate nursing students who are licensed as practical nurses, certified nursing assistants and others to practice.

Bob Atlas, president and chief executive officer for the MHA, expressed gratitude for those efforts but said those measures might not be enough.

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“The governor’s legislation and other proposed bills to address hospitals’ workforce challenges will not become law before the 30-day public health emergency runs out this Friday,” Atlas said in part.

After peaking at 3,462 on Jan. 11, Maryland’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have since fallen below 1,700. Officials have pointed to that declining metric, among others, as a sign that the state is emerging from a recent surge.

The MHA said staffing problems at hospitals in Maryland and nationwide predate the pandemic, adding that the problem has the potential to get worse. It cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that suggest 500,000 nurses will leave the workforce this year, raising the national shortage to 1.1 million nurses.

Atlas acknowledged that no industry has been immune to workforce shortages.

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“Yet, our hospitals are unique in that they must be ready to perform life-saving services 24/7/365 no matter what,” Atlas said. “We need legislative solutions, partnerships, and innovation to ensure we have the caregivers to meet all our communities’ needs.”

CBS Baltimore Staff