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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Hospital actively recruiting nurses

(Sept. 1, 2022) People who have been on the beach recently have probably seen a large banner flapping behind an airplane making its way over the ocean advertising “90K” salaries for nurses.

It looks appealing, and those with nursing degrees or aspirations of entering the field may have had their interest sparked.

But there’s a problem: the banner is not local and it is exacerbating an ongoing nursing shortage at Atlantic General Hospital.

Bob Yocubik, the hospital’s interim vice president of patient care, knows all about the banner, which he said is the product of a traveling nurse agency trying to poach from the local talent pool.

“The travel nursing industry has made it very challenging for us because it becomes a very competitive situation,” Yocubik said recently. “And we’re competing with hospitals in California where the cost of living is very high and the salaries are very high. That’s part of what was on the sign — we’ll pay you $90,000 in a place that’s very high cost of living.”

Even without the enticement of a $90,000 starting salary — which is nearly $30,000 more than AGH pays on average — Yocubik said the hospital has experienced staffing challenges for a while.

“We’re definitely seeing issues with critical staffing shortages. And part of that is because we’ve seen a significant increase in patients,” he said. “We’re usually very busy in the summer but the patients are coming in and they’re very sick, so we have high acuity patients with staffing challenges. And that’s specific to nursing and certified nursing assistants. And also our emergency room technicians. Those are areas we have challenges with.”

While covid bumped up patient numbers at the height of the pandemic, Yocubik said patients are coming in now with a variety of illnesses.

“Some of it could have been related to past covid. [But] often it’s just we have an older population here,” he said.

The struggles are not specific to this area, either.

According to a recent report from the Maryland Hospital Association, state hospitals are facing “the most critical staffing shortage in recent memory, with one in every four nurse positions vacant.”

The report attributed the low numbers primarily to high staff turnover, shifting care delivery models, and an insufficient talent pipeline.

Yocubik, who in his interim position is tasked to encourage and inspire nurses to come work at Atlantic General, said the hospital has faced similar challenges.

“Some of the key factors were we have an aging workforce, a lot of the nurses are close to 50 years old, and we have a limited supply of new nurses coming out of the pipeline from the schools,” Yocubik said.

To remedy the situation, the hospital has partnered with various educational institutions, such as Wor Wic, Salisbury University and Delaware Tech, as well as a regional high school to recruit new nurses.

“We’re trying to take advantage of those different partnerships,” Yocubik said. “I’m trying to get more involved with the schools every day, talk to students individually when they’re here, just to give them an idea of what we have to offer.”

Atlantic General also offers a nursing residency program, which Yocubik said has been successful.

“The nurse residency programs support nurses in their first year. They have weekly meetings and education sessions,” he explained. “That has been very positive and well received by the new nurses.”

But even with the efforts, the number of people who want to enter the nursing field is still low, which Yocubik attributed not only to covid, but also to the availability of other, more enticing job opportunities.

“There’s a calling to nursing … there are individuals out there that are still seeking that calling. But I think that you’ll find that those numbers are down,” he said.  “They are down as opposed to previous years. And I think covid may have had an impact on that.”

Even with the lower number of nurses at the local hospital, Yocubik said the level of care has not changed.

“The quality of care remains high but we’re having to use our clinical managers to kick in and help.”

The directors are out there helping take care of patients, he said.

“So, in a very small independent hospital … we don’t have a lot of extra nurses, if you will, or bench strength, if you will, to support the nurses that are out there. So, we’re having managers, directors, leadership out in those roles and over time that is wearing us down.”

Yocubik said the medical surgery unit is currently short three or four nurses, while the ICU is down several as well.

To cope, the hospital is offering monetary incentives to nurses and other support staff to take on extra shifts. But those efforts will not work forever.

“We’re incentivizing them with increased pay, but over time for the health care industry that’s not going to be sustainable. We just can’t continue to do this,” Yocubik said. “So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get out in front of that and get high quality nurses in here from other regions, from out of nursing school. We are trying to get them in here and teach them the AGH way. In general, how we do things and how we prioritize safety and patient care.”

Yocubik added that all things considered, Atlantic General is regarded highly for its level of care, and when people want to be in the health care field, the local hospital has positive offerings, like low nurse-to-patient ratios and an overall caring atmosphere.

“It’s just Atlantic General Hospital is a very friendly, family-oriented place … And I think that’s why a lot of people want to work here,” he said. “We’re a small, independent hospital. There are … very few small, independent hospitals across the country. And we’ve succeeded in that model just by being that small, friendly, caring hospital.”