Maryland hospitals urge lawmakers to address financial strain

Early on in the pandemic, Maryland’s hospitals were financially sound, according to the Maryland Hospital Association (MHA) Chief External Affairs Officer Nicole Dempsey Stallings. Maryland’s unique All-Payer Model, which determines an evenly-distributed, fixed budget for the state’s hospitals each year, acted as a “shock absorber” that helped stabilize both a drop in patient volumes and expenses for personal protective equipment. 

Now, hospitals are facing a significant workforce shortage—one that Stallings says the model can’t solve.

 

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“Everywhere else in the nation, you can grow your revenue by increasing patient volume. You can’t do that in Maryland … Now, as we’re dealing with this collision of an ongoing pandemic, and a staggering workforce shortage, we’re really being challenged.”

Maryland has had a relatively robust health workforce, ranking high in physician supply compared to other states, a pre-pandemic report found. However, the report also showed Maryland ranked much lower in health workforce retention.

Stallings says MHA’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session include securing immediate, short-term relief to address the hospital workforce shortage, either through legislation or budget amendments. Maryland currently has its most significant budget surplus to date—$2.5 billion. Stallings hopes the legislature will use it to boost workforce support programs.

“[MHA] would like to create a fund that hospitals can use for recruitment and retention of their health care staff to ensure that we can continue to provide care to those that we’re seeing in every [COVID] surge.”

Another top priority for Maryland hospitals is increasing medical liability protections. Insurers willing to write liability policies for hospitals are in decline, Stallings says. Those who still are may either require higher risk retention in the form of high premiums, or exclude certain claims from coverage. Stallings says some policies have excluded COVID-related claims, or coverage for entire cities or counties. 

With the 2022 legislative session just a few weeks away, Stallings’ key message to policymakers is to ensure access to care for all Marylanders.

“We hope that the General Assembly will acknowledge the hard work of Maryland’s hospitals and those that we employed over the past 20 months, and [they will] really take acknowledgement of this difficult situation and turn it into action. We hope we’re able to get some key advances in 2022.”