While Congress is on summer recess, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and her staff visited Humboldt County and spoke to residents and local leaders about their concerns on Aug. 27.
“This is our August recess which means that congress is not in session so that means we all get to be in our home states,” Cortez Masto said. “I get to travel around the state and talk about issues that matter to them and then let you know what's going on in DC. That's why I'm here.”
In the informal meeting, the Senator took questions from the audience ranging from the lack of rural medical care to economic development and the lack of skilled workforce.
In addition to visiting the counties around the state, the senator held several panels to explore issues unique to Nevada. “Since I've been home, we recently put together a wildfire summit and brought all of our stakeholders statewide to talk about how to address wildfires in this state of Nevada,” she told the audience.
Nevada is one of the top ten states for wildfires according to the US Forest Service. The state suffered 649 fires with 1,001,966 acres burned. The 2018 Martin Fire in Humboldt County consumed 435,569, or 680 square miles.
Judge Michael Montero voiced his concerns about the lack of services within the county. “I see in my role as district court judge, and presiding over a number of specialty courts, we have a desperate need for services in rural Nevada, and I'm sure this doesn't come as a surprise to you, especially mental health services,” Montero said. “We don't, in our community, right now, have a psychiatrist or psychologist.”
Cortez Masto said she understands how difficult it is to attract qualified medical personnel and services in rural areas. “I think a combination of things need to be done,” she said. “It requires our state to focus on mental health needs and behavioral health services and really prioritize them. I know (over) the years we've really gutted our mental health needs and we need to start funding it again and making sure we're addressing behavioral health services in general.”
Cortez Masto, however, said the short-term solution was to address the lack of broadband capabilities in rural communities. “(We) really need to bring broadband into our communities so we can have e-health and telehealth. Those things help connect the communities” to medical teams in urban areas such as Reno or Las Vegas she said. “But to do that we have to have the broad band in our communities, and it has to be stable, it has to be consistent so part of it is making sure we get the federal dollars.”
Cortez Masto thinks the arrival of broadband will be a game changer for not only rural communities but for the country as a whole. “Whoever takes advantage and implements 5G first has an economic advantage,” Cortez Masto said. “We were fortunate enough as a country to take and be able to implement 4G very quickly and we need to do that with 5G … so that's what we're working on now is making sure that this country leads around the world when it comes to 5G. ... but unless we get you up to speed quick on broadband, you're going to be left behind and so we can't have that because not only is that something that is bad for our rural communities individually, but for your economic security and future.”
County Commission Chairman Jim French said one of the biggest challenges facing rural counties is the inability to train, attract and keep a skilled workforce. “Workforce development is probably one of the largest components many of these industries are looking and not having a workforce to populate their enterprise” is a problem. French asked the senator if there was room for developing programs which integrate training high school students in rural communities which would provide incentives to stay in their hometowns.
Cortez Masto said that there is a lot of economic development legislation which includes a workforce component. But she stressed that it isn’t just legislation that will make a difference but communication between all the stakeholders. The success rural communities can achieve is through “making sure we're all talking, not just federal, local and state but we're talking with the private sector.”