Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 | 6:43 p.m.
The legislative Interim Finance Committee Thursday approved shifting more than $4 million in the budget of the troubled plagued Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital to hire private psychiatrists, nurses and social workers.
Richard Whitley, administrator of the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, said the hospital in Las Vegas has been unable to recruit and maintain psychiatrists in the state system because of low pay.
Under questioning by committee members, Whitley said psychiatrists can make $40,000 a year more in private practice. He also said it was difficult to retain social workers who switch to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which pays more.
The range of salaries of psychiatrists differs and he promised the committee a comparison of private and state psychiatrists.
The Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health System has averaged 104 vacancies in staffing this fiscal year, which began July 1. That includes 21 psychiatrists and 25 psychiatrist nurses.
"This is a 24-hour operation and the services must be provided around the clock," Whitley said. "We need coverage on all shifts."
In addition, some of the psychiatrists don't want to work full time, he said.
Part of the money to hire privately will come from savings in the staff vacancies.
The division was allowed to transfer $321,445 in federal funds to provide homes for mentally ill patients once they are released from the hospital.
The hospital will also transfer money from its budget for this project program. Whitley said this will provide treatment in a home rather than in the hospital or jails. He said there is a waiting list of 350 people who qualify for these placements and this would reduce that to zero.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has said the care for patients at the hospital is below standards. It has said there must be improvements or Medicaid funding will be discontinued for patients.
The state has drafted a plan of correction and federal inspectors will check to see if the trouble spots have been eliminated.