Study spotlights key healthcare needs in Northern Nevada

A 14-month study of healthcare jobs in Northern Nevada has identified three key professions the state needs to foster.

Occupational therapy assistant, physical therapy assistant and respiratory therapist are three in-demand jobs paying a living wage that are now being filled largely by out-of-state recruits due to a lack of in-state educational opportunities.

The study makes four recommendations that call for the state to create coordinated, accelerated training programs in community colleges and develop ways to help students finance their education.

“It’s no secret unemployment is a problem,” said Sparks Mayor Geno Martini, who with other elected official Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell and Nevada Assemblyman David Bobzien convened the task force that conducted the study. “We’re still importing a lot of people from out of town. We need to tell the education system that we need to train people in healthcare.”

The study was conducted by Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada, a coalition of 29 faith groups with a charter of bolstering education and creating jobs.

The group evaluated 46 healthcare professions, scoring them based on several criteria, including wages, current demand and job growth, training time, cost of education and return on investment.

The three targeted professions best met the mix of criteria. Occupational therapy assistant, for example, pays an average lifetime wage of $75,000 annually and costs $11,805 to train for. A respiratory therapist takes two years training that cost $9,646 and receives an average lifetime wage of $57,000 a year.

Two other jobs — medical assistant and pharmacy technician — received the highest weighted score based on the criteria but neither met the threshold for a living wage.

The study recommends community colleges work together to provide training programs via online classes that could be taken by students statewide, then on-site lab classes for each program hosted at different campuses.

Western Nevada College, for example, is interested in starting up a respiratory therapist program and estimates it would cost approximately $200,000 to hire a director/teacher, lab assistants, equipment and travel between the area’s hospitals, according to Anne Hansen, director of information and marketing services at the Carson City college.

The next step is to figure out how to fund the proposed programs.

“We’re hoping for a groundswell of support,” said Hansen. “Grants, the legislature, it could come from myriad sources.”

That includes local healthcare employers such as Renown Health and Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center, which support the study.

Hansen said in the past Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center in Carson City, for example, paid for the two-year tuition of eight nursing students.

Pat Fling, ACTIONN executive director, said the group presented its findings to the Governor’s Workforce Investment Board council on healthcare and medical services and has plans to meet with other decision makers including the Nevada System of Higher Education Regents, Nevada legislators, who approve the community college’s budget, and the Nevada Hospital Association.

“The workforce commission was very receptive,” said Fling. “And they make recommendations to DETR (Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation) about which training programs to fund.”


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