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What Will Nevada's Health Care Worker Shortage Mean For Its COVID-19 Response?

Female surgeon looks down while other workers care for a patient behind her.
Nevada ranks at nearly the bottom of the list in terms of health care workers per capita, according to Dr. John Packham from the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has created shortages of medical supplies, especially personal protective equipment, across the nation. The crisis is also exacerbating health care capacity in Nevada.

While the shortage of providers had already been a problem before, it could hamper the state response to COVID-19, according to Dr. John Packham of the Office of Statewide Initiatives at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. He said the shortages of medical staff spans a broad array of practices.

“What would it take to move Nevada to the [national average]?” said Packham. “We’d need 5,000 more registered nurses. We would need 200 more psychiatrists, again, just to be at that national average.”

Packham said that with these shortages, responding to patients who have COVID-19 will be a test to the system.

“Now that we are approaching surge capacity and hospitals being inundated with new patients, a lot of them in critical condition, that’s going to put strains on an already stretched health care workforce in Nevada,” Packham said.

According to Packham’s research, the problem is an issue statewide, but particularly significant in Southern Nevada. He said rural communities have even more limitations.

“If you lose one physician or if you lose one nurse, you’re almost immediately in a crisis workforce situation, in those regards,” he said.

Nevada hasn’t yet hit the surge of patients that experts are predicting, however, confirmed positive cases and deaths due to COVID-19 are growing daily in the state.

Bree Zender is a former host and reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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