Regents hear plan to launch UNLV med school

Creating a medical school in Las Vegas is going to take more than $26 million, according to a consulting firm that presented its findings to the Nevada Board of Regents’ health sciences committee Friday.

Paul Umbach, with the consulting firm Tripp Umbach, covered ways for Nevada to grow a medical school in Las Vegas. He also suggested ways to strengthen the University of Nevada School of Medicine, which has locations in Reno and Las Vegas.

It’s going to take more than $26 million to launch a successful medical school in Las Vegas, Umbach said.

Umbach detailed a plan that stretched from present day through 2022, with 2014 through 2017 being planning years and the first class of 60 students hitting the campus for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Umbach said as medical schools grow they are less dependant on state dollars because the schools generate money from clinical services, academic research and donations.

At present, the existing Nevada medical school gets about 20 percent of its funding from the state.

That’s not the norm for most medical schools, according to Umbach. Most states’ medical schools only get 10 percent of their funding from their state, he said.

In other states, people get their high-end care from academic medical centers, but in Nevada people must go out of state for several specialties because the academic health care field is underdeveloped, he said. This means Nevada’s medical school eats up more state dollars.

Las Vegas is the largest metropolitan area in the nation without its own medical school, according to a report by Brookings Mountain West and SRI International.

Creating the new medical school would mean a shakeup for the existing school. Under the tentative plan, the University of Nevada School of Medicine would be asking for about $38 million over a two-year period, a roughly $8.5 million increase in what the school typically seeks from the Legislature, said Thomas Schwenk, dean of the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

Schwenk called the legwork required to create a new school a very subtle dance, because it requires not just establishing a new school, but moving an existing school and building it up again. The initiative would mean that University of Nevada School of Medicine would scale back its Las Vegas presence and expand operations in Reno.

“If we do this right the state will be dramatically different 10 years from now,” Schwenk said.

Umbach drove home the point that while becoming a two-medical school state will cost a lot up front, eventually both schools will be generating revenue.

“This isn’t just dollars going into a black hole,” Umbach said. “This is dollars in economic development coming back.”

Chancellor Dan Klaich said creating a medical school in Las Vegas was, “as close to a sure thing in a gambling state that we can do.”

“If you make the investment, the economic impact will follow, the result on the general fund will follow and you’ll have a winner,” Klaich said.

Regents discussed how to get over the hurdle of asking for a large sum of money when economic times are still tough.

University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson said everyone must unite to sell the idea of a Las Vegas medical school to legislators.

The full Board of Regents will vote Aug. 22 on the committee’s plan to expand the medical education budget. If the plan passes it will then go to Gov. Brian Sandoval, who will decide whether to send the request to the Legislature.

Barbara Atkinson, planning dean for the UNLV School of Medicine, said she anticipates UNLV will settle on a location for the future school soon. Atkinson said three areas are being evaluated: an area near UNLV’s main campus, Las Vegas’ medical district near UNLV’s Shadow Lane campus and an area near the VA Medical Center in North Las Vegas.

Contact Bethany Barnes at bbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes.