Updated December 1, 2021 - 6:56 am
Late Tuesday morning, Gov. Steve Sisolak delivered a bouquet of flowers to Las Vegas nurse practitioner Geoconda Hughes. The two then sat down on her sofa to chat about topics ranging from the nursing shortage to the emotional toll of working in an ICU during the pandemic.
“We saw six people die a day” from COVID-19 in her ICU early in the pandemic, Hughes told the governor. “It was horrible. … But it’s better right now. I think vaccinations have been key for us.”
The governor said, “I just can’t begin to thank you enough for everything you’re doing.”
In this manner, the governor launched a slate of events during what he called “Health Care Week in Nevada” aimed at recognizing Nevadans who work in medicine and raising community awareness of their efforts. The events also provide an opportunity, he said, to learn more about the problems facing health care workers and possible solutions to their workplace challenges.
Early in the pandemic, Hughes, then an ICU nurse, spoke out about the shortage of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, needed to keep health care workers safe. A union representative, she also emphasized how a worsening ratio of nurses to patients was delaying response times.
“I wanted to quit,” she told the governor during the half hour meeting at her central Las Vegas home. Not only was the death toll shattering her spirit, but she felt compelled to live apart from her two teenage sons for weeks out of fear of bringing the virus home to them.
When she was able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 last December, and as she completed her education and training to become a nurse practitioner, she decided she could continue to work in the ICU. Most of the patients she now sees with COVID-19 are the unvaccinated, she said. With her family inoculated, Hughes, who works at the St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus, feels much safer.
Hughes, 49, assured Sisolak that there now are adequate supplies of PPE, but said there continues to be a staffing storage. She suggested that Nevada might fare better in attracting traveling nurses to fill in the gaps if it legislated nurse-to-patient ratios, as California does.
Sisolak said that his staff would look into possible legislation on the issue.
Meeting with nurses
Sisolak’s next stop was a round-table discussion with board members of the Philippine Nurses Association of Nevada, a nonprofit professional organization.
The members spoke of how, among other volunteer efforts, they had sewn masks and made plastic face shields during the pandemic to preserve medical masks for personnel working with COVID-19 patients.
The nurses, several of whom had contracted COVID-19 themselves, also stressed the importance of vaccination. Sisolak asked what more the state could do to encourage people to get inoculated.
Cesar Noel Estillore, a nurse practitioner who contracted a severe case of COVID-19 before vaccination was available and landed in the hospital on a ventilator, suggested more advertisements with testimonials from those who have survived the disease. Another member suggested a holiday raffle for the vaccinated, while a third advocated for offering vaccination at more medical clinics.
Some members also complained about lax enforcement of mask-wearing at some major events. Sisolak acknowledged that enforcing an indoor mask mandate has been a problem for front-line workers.
Sisolak thanked the group. “This pandemic has brought out the worst in people and the best people at the same time,” the governor said. “But let me close with this: You are part of what’s the best.”
Charina de Asis, director of the Nevada Office for New Americans, noted that without the work of skilled immigrants and refugees, the healthcare system would not work as well as it does.
This week, the governor also will join Volunteers in Medicine to recognize the volunteer health care workforce, tour the Martin Luther King Family Health Center and visit Quest Counseling in Reno.