Three key health workforce bills heard in committee


Nicole Pasia


As Maryland lawmakers are preparing to introduce final bills for the 2022 legislative session by next week, three bills across both chambers are specifically addressing the ongoing health workforce shortage in the state. 


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Senate Bill 440 passed its second reading with amendments on Thursday. Sponsored by Sen. Pamela Beidle (D – Anne Arundel), this legislation would establish a Commission to Study the Health Care Workforce Crisis in Maryland. The commission would compile data on health workforce shortages across the state and recommend short-term solutions to strengthen relations between the Department of Health and the various health occupations boards. The Commission would then submit a final report to the General Assembly by Dec. 31, 2023.

During its second reading, Sen. Mary Washington (D – Baltimore City) outlined clarifying amendments, including the addition of an interim report, and to make the measure an emergency bill. 

“There is a health workforce crisis in Maryland,” she said. “It preceded the pandemic and has only been exacerbated by it. This Commission has a very targeted goal of studying and addressing this of short duration, and the [Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs] Committee felt this was so important.”

The bill is now listed for its third and final reading on the Senate Floor.

Also on Thursday, the House Health and Government Operations Committee held a hearing for House Bill 1208, which specifically focuses on expanding the nursing workforce. Some of the bill’s provisions include creating a state income tax credits for registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and licensed practical nurses, as well as an “externship” program. 

Under this program, which was initially put in place during the pandemic, the State Board of Nursing may grant “clinical extern certificates” to enable nursing students who have not yet become board-certified to provide health services under direct supervision of a board-approved supervisor. 

Erin Dorrien, the Maryland Hospital Association’s vice president of policy, testified in support of the bill. She particularly voiced support for the externship program. 

“This is a win-win for the health care system and nursing students,” she said. “We’re really happy that this is moving to the Board of Nursing, and hopefully being set up in a more permanent fashion.” 

At the same hearing, Del. Stephanie Smith (D – Baltimore City) introduced her bill on cultural competency and diversity training within mental health occupations. HB 1318 builds on the progress of a similar bill passed last session, which requires the identification and approval of implicit bias training programs within health occupations. 

Smith’s bill would require at least six hours of cultural competency training upon a mental health provider’s license renewal and establish a “Culturally Informed and Culturally Responsive Mental Health Task Force.” It would also require mental health occupation state boards to have at least three members from under-represented communities, and establish a workgroup to study alternative mental health professional licensing pathways. 

“The mission of this bill is twofold,” Smith said. “Increase the competency around issues of race, ethnicity, LGBTQ and other underrepresented identities, but also ensure that we have more people of those underrepresented groups present in the mental health and behavioral health workforce.”

Both house bills are awaiting further committee action. 

This story was corrected 3/7 to reflect Erin Dorrien’s correct title.