Health has been big in the news all across the country in 2015, and Nevada health news is no different. From medical marijuana to medical tourism, here are four big issues in Nevada health news.

Mental health funding

Funding for mental health patients across the country is low, but in Nevada the struggle is more complex as the state’s only maximum-security facility for treating court-ordered patients is having a hard time meeting federally-mandated deadlines for admission. Lake’s Crossing Center in Sparks is double-bunking patients to maximize bed space, but they still report wait times for admission longer than the required 21 days. The state is looking to use space at the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital campus in Las Vegas while Stein Hospital finishes remodeling.

Because most of the struggle to increase mental health capacity is financial, Governor Brian Sandoval has proposed a budget item in the amount of $20 million to hire an additional 154 staff members and to create 54 more beds at Stein Hospital. This increases capacity from the current 86 beds to 133.

This initiative seems to have broad, bipartisan support in the state Senate. Senator Debbie Smith from Sparks believes that the first step is getting Stein Hospital ready for patients, with funding being an important part of that. She notes:

“It’s really critical that we get Stein staffed and up and running so that there’s access to people who need the forensic facility rather than us bringing everyone up here. We are going to have issues if we don’t get that done, for one thing. But it’s the right thing to do to have the facility in Southern Nevada, where most of the patients are from.”

Clark County Deputy Public Defender Christy Craig is looking for positive changes in this direction and says she may head back to federal court if the funding is not approved.

“I’m disappointed that there hasn’t been a greater change. I recognize the difficulty in terms of space at Lake’s Crossing Center and the financial difficulty that they face, but the jail has the same financial issues, and frankly, the clients have rights, which the state has acknowledged.”

Medical school funding at UNLV

Governor Sandoval is aiming his checkbook at not only treatment for patients but also training of doctors with two items in this year’s budget. In an effort to increase the number of doctors in Nevada, a key measure of health care quality, Sandoval has proposed $10 million for residency training of medical school graduates. He has also proposed fully funding a new medical school at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in time for the first class to enter in 2017.

Both of these budget items could have a positive impact. Nevada ranks last in the number of orthopedic surgeons, 2nd to last in registered nurses, and 47th in family practitioners. Nevada only has 9.5 medical students per 100,000 residents, far below the national average of 25.8 medical students per 100,000 residents.

Adding a medical school to UNLV would not only boost tax revenues but also add approximately 12,000 jobs to the state. With a medical school, Nevada would receive federal money for research and health initiatives. Long-term, the medical school at UNLV is projected to boost the economy to the tune of $1.2 billion by 2030.

Medical marijuana

In 2001, medical marijuana was approved for use in Nevada for the following conditions:

  • AIDS
  • Cachexia (wasting disease, or severe weight loss)
  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Muscle spasms or seizures
  • Severe nausea or pain
  • Other conditions as approved

Patients can have in their possession 2 ½ ounces of marijuana from a medical dispensary, and they can cultivate 12 mature plants in their home if they are not within 25 miles of a dispensary.

Marijuana use has been decriminalized Nevada, but in November of 2016, voters will decide whether or not to make marijuana use and possession legal altogether. If the bill passes, marijuana would be regulated like alcohol with age limits, state taxes, and rules surrounding cultivation.

Even our four-legged family members are getting in on the act this year, with a bill for medical marijuana for pets wending its way through the Nevada legislature. As with humans, medical marijuana can ease chronic pain conditions and provide a higher quality of life for pets undergoing treatment for cancer. This particular bill also includes provisions to clarify penalties for those who drive under the influence of marijuana and to set rules allowing the resale of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Medical tourism

And finally in Nevada health news, Nevada is joining the ranks of other countries worldwide in promoting medical tourism. While Nevada does not yet boast the world-class surgical facilities of some other medical tourism destinations, the focus for this initiative is on the positive.

Douglas Geinzer, CEO of Las Vegas HEALS; Stowe Shoemaker, dean of UNLV’s College of Hotel Administration; Michael Vannozzi, director of public policy for Global Economic Alliance; and Cheryl Smith, medical and wellness tourism manager for the Convention and Visitors Authority presented a plan to promote medical tourism that focused not on the nuts-and-bolts of health but on the aspect of preventative care and wellness that Las Vegas is known for. Said Smith:

“I think there is an assumption that wellness is only defined by things like cholesterol check-ups and executive physicals. That’s the medical aspect of it. But there’s a proactive side, prevention. Our spas contribute to overall health and well-being, stress reduction and destination for visitors to experience wellness differently then perhaps they can at home.”

Medical tourism in Nevada would also utilize medical concierge services that help coordinate care from prevention to treatment and everything in between. This is another initiative that would benefit by a fully-funded medical school and the potential for cutting-edge clinical trials. A medical concierge service could coordinate every aspect of a patient’s experience in Nevada, from booking travel to providing transportation to appointments to coordinating spa services.

This proposal for increasing medical tourism was developed after the co-authors met with 147 businesses and organizations. In its conclusion, the report noted that:

[Nevada] needs a more robust strategy to capture a healthy slice of the medical and wellness tourism market and after more than a year of meetings and outreach, the project partners have developed a strategy that begins to address the systemic issues that are holding our medical and wellness tourism economy from realizing its full potential.”

Which Nevada health news most impacts you?

Image by Ken Lund via Flickr