CARSON CITY (KLAS) – A nursing shortage combined with a surge in COVID hospitalizations is raising red flags across Nevada.

State health officials said Thursday that Nevada, like much of the country, is grappling with a nursing shortage.

Nevada had a shortage of nurses even before the pandemic when each wave of cases and crush of hospitalizations left nurses demoralized and drove some to leave the profession. Nevada, like other states, is struggling to attract traveling nurses to help bolster their staffs.

Dr. Chris Lake with the Nevada Hospital Association said Thursday the issue has been compounded by the number of people who are unvaccinated and end up in the hospital or intensive care unit.

The executive director of the Nevada Hospital Association said on a conference call Thursday that those not vaccinated against COVID-19 account for 90 percent of all COVID hospitalizations in Nevada.

Lake said northern Nevada has been further squeezed by the major wildfire bearing down on South Lake Tahoe, which prompted the city’s hospital to evacuate dozens of its patients to nearby hospitals.

Lake said some hospitals throughout the state may have to turn away ambulances and send them on longer drives to more distant locations, such as redirecting them to Reno from Carson City or across traffic-clogged freeways in the Las Vegas area.

“We are changing the ways that hospitals staff,” said Lake. “We are using team nursing approaches to certain floors so we can use our personnel in a manner that we can treat other patients with who we have.”

Lake said the average hospital cost for a COVID patient is about $20,000 per day. That cost, he says, could be avoided if more people do their part to stay healthy and get vaccinated.

The dire warnings about hospitals come as the state has started to see a slight improvement in the number of new cases of COVID-19 reported. After a sharp increase in new reported cases in June and July, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 started to level off in August and in the past few days has dropped very slightly.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.