New year at UMC

There wasn’t much surprise last week to University Medical Center CEO Brian Brannman’s decision to resign his post.

If you’d seen his face after a few of the legislative and County Commission hearings he’s endured in the past 2½ years, you’d totally understand his decision to take over as president and CEO of St. Rose’s Siena campus in Henderson, as well as vice president of operations for Nevada for Dignity Health, the parent company of St. Rose hospitals.

Let’s face it: The job of running UMC isn’t easy. But it’s one of the most critical jobs in town, which is why it’s important to get the best person for the job that we can.

In Brannman, we had that. A former Navy rear admiral who headed Naval Medical Center San Diego and Navy Medicine West, he was just the person UMC needed after former CEO Lacy Thomas was terminated and charged with looting the place. Serious and quietly dedicated, Brannman went about his duties even as the governance of UMC became a political football.

He was one of the many stunned people in the audience at a legislative hearing in April, when a trio of Clark County Commissioners — Chris Giunchigliani, Tom Collins and Lawrence Weekly — showed up to testify against a bill sought by the other four members of the commission. The bill would have put the hospital under a quasi-private board of trustees, a change Brannman had endorsed because of some of the competitive disadvantages the public hospital faced.

Weekly, who serves as chairman of the hospital’s board (which is the County Commission) explained he wasn’t opposed to a governing board, but simply the type of board contemplated by the bill. That legislation died shortly after the hearing.

But Weekly and his colleagues ultimately did approve a governing board for UMC with plenty of authority, including hiring and firing the CEO. That board will get up to speed this year, and Weekly says he’s enthusiastic about the hospital’s future.

“Everybody wants it to work,” said Weekly, of UMC. “We need to do a better job of how we communicate with the taxpaying public about how UMC operates.”

UMC is the valley’s only public hospital and its only Level 1 trauma center, fully staffed to handle emergencies from gunshot wounds to brutal traffic accidents and everything in between. It’s got a well-regarded burn unit and children’s hospital. It’s the place you really want to go if you’re seriously hurt. And while all local hospitals provide some level of care for uninsured people, it’s UMC and its dedicated staff of physicians and nurses who bear the brunt of that responsibility.

In short, if UMC didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it, if only to allow the county to discharge its responsibility under federal law to care for people who don’t have the money to pay for lifesaving treatment. And that population has soared during the recession, as joblessness has risen and the nation debated a new health care law that’s just now going into effect. And that’s not to mention caring for people who aren’t even U.S. citizens, which UMC also does. No one is turned away at UMC, simply because there’s nowhere else for them to go.

But that noble work comes at a price — the hospital’s deficits reach the tens of millions of dollars every year, and there’s no doubt that UMC will always run a certain level of red ink. And that’s also made the hospital an attractive political target for some, another factor that would have anybody reaching for the aspirin.

Weeky says no one should read anything negative into Brannman’s departure for St. Rose. He says he wishes the soon-to-be-ex CEO well, but pledges that things will run smoothly once the new board selects a replacement.

“It’s a clean slate,” Weekly says. “It’s a new year.”

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or