Nevada nurses are calling for better working conditions and say one way to achieve that goal is for the state to mandate nurse-to-patient ratios.
Nearly a dozen nurses and nursing organizations testified before the Legislature's health care subcommittee, urging ratios and other regulations as a way to bring former nurses back to the health field.
Currently, Nevada ranks last in the nation with a ratio of 520 nurses per 100,000 people, compared with the national average of 782 nurses per 100,000 people.
"Staff nurses believe they are overworked, understaffed (and) with too many acute patients to care for," said Belen Gabato, president of the Philippine Nurses Association of Nevada. "Twelve-hour shifts are debilitating, physically and mentally."
Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1107 and the Nevada Nurses Association also spoke Thursday in favor of nurse-to-patient ratios.
Lillian Gonzalez, a contract registered nurse who works for several Las Vegas-area hospitals, said a number of problems result from being understaffed and dealing with large patient loads.
She said sometimes nurses aren't able to respond to call lights quickly, medications are dispensed late and patients and family members feel neglected as a result.
Efforts in Nevada to increase the number of licensed nurses have included doubling the number of positions in nursing programs, providing scholarships and training foreign nurses to work in the United States.
The nurses at Thursday's meeting said the current efforts are a good start, but more needs to be done.
One Las Vegas-area hospital official said her hospital is doing well without state-mandated ratios.
Vickie Huber, chief nursing officer for University Medical Center, said the hospital's programs have kept nurse-vacancy rates low. The hospital has 1,200 registered nurses and a 3 percent turnover rate, which is one-fourth of the 13 percent turnover rate statewide. UMC's nurses have been organized by the Service Employees International Union Local 1107 since the 1980s.
Huber said UMC offers a 1 percent bonus for every year a nurse stays with the hospital after five years. It also offers tuition reimbursement and scholarship opportunities, which other Las Vegas-area hospitals also offer.
The Nevada hospital industry spends about $3.6 million annually in recruitment and retention of nurses, said Bill Welch, head of the Nevada Hospital Association.
Welch added Nevada's average salary for nurses is $25.34 per hour, higher than the national average of $21.56 per hour.