Friday, Feb. 19, 2010 | 3 a.m.
Although the state’s jobless rate hovers at 13 percent and many workers are losing jobs, health care employment has bucked that trend in Las Vegas just as it has across the nation.
Toward the end of 2009, Las Vegas had 69,700 health care workers, up 3.4 percent or 2,300 jobs from a year earlier, said Brian Gordon, principal at research firm Applied Analysis.
“They have outperformed other sectors of the economy regardless of the economic climate. People still demand health care-related services,” Gordon said. “Given the fact that the population continues to age, that segment of the population will continue to demand medical-related services.”
By the firm’s count, in 2008 Nevada had 25.5 health care workers per 1,000 people, well below the average 35.7 workers per 1,000 people across the nation. That opens the door to more growth in Las Vegas.
The valley is in a good position for growth in health care jobs because it has the Nevada Cancer Institute and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which will bring in additional researchers and medical workers, Gordon said.
Nevada’s Employment, Training and Rehabilitation Chief Economist Bill Anderson said the health care sector has held up “relatively well compared to the economy as a whole during this downturn.” Once the books are closed on 2009, health care jobs are likely to have increased by 1.1 percent compared with a 9.5 percent job loss overall, he said.
The growth in health care jobs has slowed in the last couple of years, said Anderson, who expects employment in the sector to grow at 1 percent to 2 percent for the next two years.
“It has definitely eased from where it was during the boom years,” Anderson said. “Health care is very much population and demographic driven. As population has grown over time, that has allowed the health sector to weather the downturn better.”
What’s happening in Las Vegas has been happening in the rest of the country.
Nationally, construction has lost 21 percent of its jobs from December 2007 to last December. Manufacturing lost 15 percent of its jobs, and business and financial services have lost 6 percent to 7 percent of their jobs in that time. Health care employment, however, has risen 5 percent.
“The health care industry is critical to a region’s economic development because it is relatively recession resistant,” said John Restrepo, principal of Restrepo Consulting Group. “And, health care employees are generally better trained and earn above-average wages.”
In 2009’s second quarter, the average weekly wage of health care workers was $957 compared with the overall job market of $793. That’s a 21 percent premium over the rest of the economy because health care workers are generally higher-trained people, and there is more demand because there is a shortage, Restrepo said.
“The health care industry is not sexy like the green jobs or biotech, but it is a core industry that you need to pay good wages,” Restrepo said.
Charles Perry, Nevada Health Care Association executive director, said health care employment has held steady because it is such a crucial profession and because it’s funded by either insurance or government programs.
But Perry said jobs are threatened because of state budget problems. Under Gov. Jim Gibbons proposal, a $10 per patient per day reduction for skilled nursing services would be sought. The state pays $12.27 less than what it costs to provide the service, he said.
“Seventy percent of the cost in running skilled nursing is patient care, and that absolutely means cutting staff,” Perry said. “But it doesn’t stop with us. Folks that operate acute-care facilities are looking at a 5 percent (cut) in addition to the 5 percent cut they took last year. Every segment of the health care delivery system in Nevada that depends on Medicaid for any portion of its revenue is going to take it in the shorts so to speak. It could have a heck of a long-term impact (on jobs).”
Frank Bellinger, Horizon Specialty Hospital CEO, said health care employment remains a solid career choice because workers can’t be replaced with robots and a shortage of licensed nurses remains.
Bellinger said he expects employment to hold steady with no large increases or cutbacks, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems for the profession. Pay increases had been 4 percent during the good economy, but that has slowed to 2 percent to 3 percent, he said.
“For the first time in my career, our company told us we are not going to get cost-of-living increases and I am sure we are not alone,” Bellinger said.
Dr. Harry Rosenberg, University of Southern Nevada president, said health care employment has been affected by the economy and Wall Street in particular.
Some pharmacists at the chain drugstores have postponed retirement because they lost a lot of money in investments. Their decision has slowed the demand for pharmacists.
Dr. Carolyn Yucha, UNLV School of Nursing dean, said the recession has affected veteran nurses as well by forcing some to move to full-time positions or delay their retirement because household income is down. One reason may be someone in the home lost his job, she said.
“It is more difficult for new graduates to get a job,” Yucha said. “They haven’t been immune to this.”
For the 16-month program that starts this summer, 70 people have applied for 48 spots, she said. In the fall, 900 students entered the prenursing program.
“They believe this is the place they can get a job, and when the recession goes away we will need them,” Yucha said.
The unknown for the industry is what happens with federal health care reform because it will shape future employment if more
people are given access to health care, Rosenberg said. That means creating additional jobs.