LAS VEGAS (AP) - Hospital officials agree with health care professionals that a shortage of more than 500 registered nurses in Las Vegas is a significant problem, but they don't agree that it is jeopardizing patient care.
''I'm very concerned, and I'm a nurse on the inside'' with an insider's perspective, said Shirley Hughes, a charge nurse at University Medical Center who has been practicing for 40 years.
''If any of my family members have to go into the hospital, I'm going to have to see to it that they get good care. Hospitals don't want us to tell the public that we're really short-handed, really short-staffed, but at times we are.''
Hughes told the Las Vegas Review-Journal staffing shortages can mean delayed medications and inattention to basic needs.
Family members may find themselves feeding and bathing their loved ones, tasks normally performed by trained hospital staff, she said, adding that it's not unusual for nurses to arrive for work and find 30 patients under their care.
Hospital officials, however, say that quality of care is not compromised. Hospital wings are shut down or patients are diverted to other facilities if nurse staffing becomes a problem.
That occasionally is the case at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, spokeswoman Ann Lynch said.
University Medical Center has never had to close off areas of the hospital because of a lack of nurses, officials said.
''Our emphasis is on making sure quality patient care is No. 1,'' said Vicki Huber, head of nursing at the medical center. ''We have people on call that can come in to do an extra shift.''
Byron Brown, medical director at the medical center, said it's rare for nurses to have 30 patients at one time and when it does happen, ''every effort is made to call in the amount of nurses that we need.''
He also said that when family members bathe and feed patients, it's to comfort their loved ones, not to compensate for a lack of nurses.
Ray Brown, spokesman for Valley Health Systems Hospitals - which includes Valley, Desert Springs and Summerlin hospitals - says the nursing shortage is significant, but health care is not threatened.
''If there is not appropriate staffing, hospitals won't accept patients,'' Brown said. ''But the fact of the matter is, if you physically have beds available and not enough nurses to staff them, it's a concern. It doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen.''
A survey of 20 Nevada facilities by the Nevada Hospital Association found a need for 650 registered nurses, 37 licensed practical nurses and 117 certified nursing assistants in Nevada.
The majority of the vacancies are in Clark County hospitals.
''This is the first time we've done something like this in recent history,'' said association President Bill Welch. ''We've been concerned about the nursing shortage in the state for some time now and we needed to step up to the plate and determine the extent of the problem. It's extremely severe.''
Although hospital officials say patient health is not compromised, they do recognize the nursing shortage and are aggressively recruiting nationwide to fill vacancies.
Most hospitals are in contact with local nursing schools, high schools and even junior high school students to discuss nursing as a viable career option. Others offer signing bonuses, relocation packages and even cash for current employees who refer nurses to the hospitals.
''We're very concerned about it, and we're trying to come up with strategies for both recruitment and retention,'' Huber said.