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Task force says healthcare workforce lacking in Northern Nevada

A task force of community members in Northern Nevada has been studying the growing need for specialized healthcare workers in the region. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that the group is recommending more training programs at the college level that reduce common barriers for students, like the amount of time and money needed to complete their education.

The Healthcare Jobs of the Future Task Force includes representatives from local colleges and hospitals who are examining gaps in the training pipeline for healthcare professionals.

With the state's Medicaid expansion and the growing number of insured Nevadans through the Affordable Care Act, the group says the demand for services is only going to grow and Nevada employers are already having to hire people from out-of-state.

"Currently, we are seeing a need for respiratory therapy and physical therapy programs that are lacking," explains Maria Uttaro with St. Mary's Regional Medical Center. "So we're having to recruit outside of our community, which does nothing to support our unemployment rate."

Uttaro is a member of the task force, which has spent the last year conducting a study on dozens of healthcare jobs.

One of the study's authors, Ruth Stacey, says they wanted to figure out which careers would be most valuable for employers and future employees across the region.

"The deciding factors," Stacey says, "included things like: it had to pay a middle class living wage, it had to be needed in the local area, and it had to have a good growth percentage so the people would be finding jobs."

Now that the study is complete, the group is recommending that educators collaborate in order to offer training programs for respiratory therapists, along with physical and occupational therapy assistants.

Representatives from UNR, Western Nevada College, and Truckee Meadows Community College agree with this idea, including TMCC's Dean of Sciences Lance Bowen.

"What we're trying to do," Bowen says, "is really leverage what we have in place, so bringing on additional programs like these allows us to offer more opportunities, more options, for students."

For Bowen and the rest of the group, their next task will be trying to garner financial support from the legislature next year.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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