LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Nevada needs to get on board with a national agreement that makes it easier for nurses to work here without going through the state’s current licensing requirements, the Nevada Hospital Association (NHA) said Wednesday.

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) includes nearly 40 states, but California, Nevada, Oregon, Connecticut and Hawaii are not participants, according to information from nurse.org. Several other states have approved membership but are not yet participants.

The argument to join was part of NHA’s weekly report, and detailed difficulties over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic because of licensing rules. Nursing shortages were a prominent source of problems.

RSV factor

And the surge in RSV cases over the past two months has exposed hospitals’ inability to quickly react to increased needs for pediatric nurses. And it wasn’t just RSV — respiratory syncytial virus — as hospitals saw pediatric patients with flu or COVID-19.

Pediatric units throughout Nevada remain at 90% occupancy, and pediatric Intensive Care Units are full. NHA describes the situation as “stable but challenging due to nursing shortages.”

“Hospitals continue to hold children in the emergency rooms while waiting for an open bed to admit them,” NHA said. “Pediatric hospitalized RSV cases have been declining over the past week, with the number of cases dropping to 34 patients.”

An NHA request to suspend licensing requirements in late November was denied by the state. Instead, the Governor’s Office worked with NHA and the Nevada State Board of Nursing to fast-track nursing licenses for pediatric nurses.

“Nevada should become part of the National Nurse Compact to avoid the need for these patches in the future and afford Nevada nurses to be part of disaster response in other states,” NHA said today.

What’s standing in the way?

Cathy Dinauer, executive director of the Nevada Board of Nursing, said the majority of nurses in Nevada support efforts to join the compact, citing a survey that was taken a year ago. She said nurses would save both time and money if Nevada joins.

“It has been opposed by the nursing unions, which is very much why it has been derailed in the past,” Dinauer said.

She said the board has been trying to get Nevada to sign on to the NLC for 10 years, and efforts will continue in the Nevada Legislature in 2023.

The Nevada Nurses Association responded Saturday to a request for comment. The association now supports joining the compact. See story:

According to NHA, it takes about 51 days to recruit a new nurse into Nevada and secure proper licensing. That time makes it nearly impossible to get resources in place quick enough.

A California nursing website states that nurses licensed under the compact are not required to go through a background check — a potential concern in Nevada, as well.

Traveling nurses

The growth in “traveling nurses” could also be a factor.

As COVID-19 put strains on hospital resources across the country, some nurses earned huge amounts of money in 2020 by working where demand was high. Reports indicated some nurses made triple the money while their colleagues were out sick with COVID. Currently, ZipRecruiter says Nevada is the 11th-highest paying state for traveling nurses, with an average annual salary of $103,452.

When the COVID-19 “emergency” was ended by Gov. Steve Sisolak on May 20, 2022, Nevada hospitals lost some of the flexibility that was in place under the emergency declaration.

“One of the desired mitigation methods which would allow hospitals to rapidly surge beyond licensed bed capacity is the ability to bring in out‐of‐state nurses with the required pediatric specialties,” NHA said. “However, due to some licensing laws, Nevada is not one of the majority of states and territories that immediately recognize other states’ nursing licenses.”