Nevada needs nurses

Nursing shortage reaches crisis proportions in Nevada.

One of the things I have learned working in the health industry and as a state legislator is that straight talk and common sense are always the best options.

A recent study indicated that Nevada produces a scant half of the nurses required to handle the state’s population growth.

The state has been suffering a chronic and increasingly critical nursing shortage. Nevada currently has the fewest nurses per capita in the nation. This has translated into many problems in our hospitals and medical facilities.

The staffing shortage has led patients to feel they are not receiving the proper care they deserve. In some cases, nurses who are not fully trained are attending to patients. This can be dangerous when it comes to medicine dosages or recognizing symptoms. This problem also adds to liability—leading to higher health care costs for all of us.

As a retired registered nurse, I understand the obligation that a caregiver feels toward his or her patients. Many nurses have contacted me telling horror stories. They tell me of fatigue resulting from lack of adequate back-up staff. These growing frustrations will make retention of qualified nurses increasingly difficult.

In the last legislative session, I introduced legislation that provides funding for nursing scholarships and directs the university and college system in Nevada to increase nursing school enrollment. This fall, 24 additional students will be able to attend the University of Nevada, Reno’s Orvis School of Nursing, where up to three more faculty members will also be hired.

This is a small step in our rapidly growing state, but we must do more.

Increasing nursing enrollment should continue to be a priority for the university system and our state must find the funding necessary to continue in that effort. It is also important to take steps to retain currently practicing nurses, improving their working conditions and maintaining safe staffing levels. I will continue to work with my fellow legislators to address the current nursing shortage.

There is a significant proposal at the federal level would help to alleviate the problem. The Nurse Reinvestment Act has been introduced by both of Nevada’s senators in the U.S. Congress. This legislation, if enacted, would provide scholarships to nursing students in exchange for work in a public or non-profit hospital. This legislation will enable nursing students to more easily enter the profession.

I became a nurse as a result of the Nurse Cadet Act, which the U.S. Congress passed during World War II. Many of my generation were able to respond to our nation’s call to duty as a result of that legislation.

Sept. 11 has generated a new call to duty for our nation to be prepared for the unexpected. Having the necessary resources to address public health concerns should be considered a vital part of that role. In these uncertain times, nursing is one area where our state cannot afford to come up short. We must stand up to answer this call to duty.