New pressures in nursing shortage

The dynamics of Southern Nevada’s nursing shortage have changed.

When Las Vegas was booming and new hospitals were springing up everywhere, schools couldn’t graduate nurses fast enough, and out-of-state nurses could shop for the biggest signing bonus.

Now a lousy economy, reduced reimbursements and, of all things, competition from the federal government have turned the problem on its head.

Many nurses have left town because their laid-off spouses had no hope of finding work in Nevada. And the out-of-state nurses who once moved to Nevada in droves won’t come if their spouse or significant other has no chance to land a good job.

Because hospitals are seeing their bottom line hammered, like any other business, they’re trying to get more out of less. That means cutting education and mentoring, because it’s not seen as critical to patient care. So even though local hospitals have lots of open positions posted on their websites, they’re less likely to hire new nursing graduates — who have greater mobility and command less pay — and more likely to favor experienced candidates.

“If you don’t hire those beginners now and you eventually let experienced nurses leave, you lose that education when you need it most, and then you’ll have a real problem,” said Carolyn Yucha, dean of UNLV’s School of Nursing.

These trends are playing out right now at University Medical Center, where about 3,600 workers — including all its nurses — just took a 2 percent pay cut to trim the public hospital’s losses by roughly $5 million per year.

“All our experienced nurses are leaving,” said Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, chairman of UMC’s Board of Trustees. “They’re getting big pay raises to go to other local hospitals. We have a pool of great nurses with 15 to 20 years of experience, and they’re leaving. They’re just trying to make a living.”

But UMC and the valley’s for-profit and nonprofit hospitals have another factor to deal with: the June opening of the $700 million Veterans Affairs medical center in North Las Vegas.

VA spokesman Dave Martinez says about 400 nurses will be hired to staff the hospital and nursing home. And unlike private-sector hospitals, the VA center won’t have to deal with the fiscal pressures of uncompensated care or negotiate with insurers. Taxpayers will foot the bill, so the VA can put in place a staff big enough to be the envy of every hospital in town. If that isn’t enough to entice local nurses looking for a job change, the generous VA employee benefits will probably do the trick.

The staffing shuffle that has engulfed UMC is about to spread.

School year

A new academic year starts Monday for the Clark County School District. It was supposed to be the last of its kind.

In July 2010, the School Board voted to move up the start of the 2012-13 school year by almost a month to Aug. 6, or thereabouts, with the year ending in mid-May instead of early June.

The thinking behind the move was that middle school and high school students would be able to take final exams and wrap up the fall semester before winter break. The current school year calendar — similar to those in many other states — requires those students to take two weeks off for the holidays, then come back to complete the final three weeks of the semester. Some students and families have complained that winter break is stressful with exams looming, and the holiday interruption of their studies hurts their grades.

But there were plenty of arguments against changing the calendar, energy costs foremost among them. Air conditioners and school buses would be used in more extreme heat, with more breakdowns resulting. And there’s research that suggests students who are thinking ahead to vacation have weaker academic focus when taking finals, making the current calendar more favorable.

This year, the School Board did something that precious few elected bodies do: It reconsidered the matter and reversed course. With the school district cutting jobs and salaries while trying to boost achievement, it didn’t make any sense to initiate a huge change that would boost costs and potentially hurt academics. The 2012 school year will begin as usual, the week before Labor Day.

Perhaps Congress can take a cue from the School Board and undo some of its biggest mistakes. Ethanol subsidies and ObamaCare, anyone?

Clean energy summit

The National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 will be held Tuesday at CityCenter’s Aria resort, so one might expect the list of speakers to be a who’s who of science and entrepreneurship.

Wrong. Because the clean energy industry is propped up by massive federal subsidies and political pressure, the event might as well be a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.

Indeed, the headliners are Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, among other government types. Promotion for the event is being driven by the state’s Democratic Party.

John Podesta, former chief of staff for Bill Clinton, will also be there. His left-wing Washington think tank, the Center for American Progress, is co-sponsoring the summit with Reid, MGM Resorts International and UNLV.

(Yes, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, will be there, too.)

As with everything else associated with green power, research and economics are out the door in favor of partisan politics and crony capitalism. All to find ways to make you pay more for energy — and everything else as a result.

Glenn Cook ( is a Review-Journal editorial writer.

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