Nevada is experiencing a nursing shortage and Carson-Tahoe Hospital is feeling the pinch.
A recent study by the Nevada Hospital Association revealed that there is a need for an additional 650 registered nurses among 18 hospitals in Nevada, roughly 13 percent of the total force.
Carson-Tahoe Chief Nursing Officer Cathy Dinauer called the situation difficult, but so far not critical.
This year for the first time the hospital had to shut down beds for lack of nursing staff, though usually only for short times. The problem is compounded when patients cannot be transferred from Carson-Tahoe Hospital to Reno because of staffing shortages there.
"It's difficult to juggle everything and provide care without gaps," Dinauer said, saying the hospital is still provides quality care, but it has gotten very creative about it.
Supervisors now pitch in to fill the gaps and the hospital is looking at ways to cut down paper work to help deal with staff shortages. But that doesn't address the recruitment problem.
"There is a lot more competition," Dinauer said, noting women have more options than they did 20 years ago, and many now go into other fields. The stresses and challenges of the profession as well as quality of life issues have turned people away. Liability, infectious disease issues and morale problems plague hospitals as overworked staffs try to cope.
"Hospital employees work long hours with unpredictable shifts," Pamela Andres, director of operations for the Nevada Hospital Association, said, noting the increased demand for nurses in administrative positions has widened the gap.
"Those that do go into health care end up working for other organizations like HMO's and private doctors' offices where they can work days. There are a lot more opportunities in health care than the hospital."
The aging registered nurse workforce combined with slipping student enrollments in entry-level programs compounds the problem. The average age for nurses in Nevada is about 42, many of them are cutting back their hours as they near retirement. Nevada produces only about half of the new nurses it needs.
Twenty Nevada hospitals spent a combined $2.6 million on efforts to recruit and retain qualified nurses, and 47 percent of the overtime paid to nursing employees is a direct result of being short staffed due to vacancies. Hospitals reportedly spent $3.7 million on temporary nurses to help fill vacant permanent nursing positions.
"There used to be a pool of foreign nurses we could recruit," Dinauer said, saying that pool no longer exists.
"We must be progressive and pro-active and look at the alternatives," she said, saying the hospital is looking at in-house solutions to deal with the shortage.
Carson-Tahoe now employs a full-time recruiter and pays tuition for employees wishing to get their nursing degree. It is also looking into the possibility of recruiting students by offering college-level nursing classes in the high schools.