EDITORIAL: UMC can’t do it all and survive

Businesses across the valley have adjusted to the post-recession “new normal” by scaling back. Preserving products, programs or services that don’t pencil out can threaten the survival of entire operations.

It took awhile, but University Medical Center finally is on board. The region’s only public hospital, which has lost hundreds of millions of dollars over the just the past few years, can’t expect to keep its doors open if it continues to be dependent upon taxpayer bailouts year after year. The hospital’s subsidy from Clark County has grown from $41 million to $71 million, on top of $45 million in county loans this year.

And so the county, which already has undertaken a major restructuring of UMC and its governance model, is scaling the hospital back. UMC Chief Executive Officer Lawrence Barnard, who was promoted into the job earlier this year, this week announced the elimination of nearly 300 positions — 224 layoffs and 61 vacant posts — to save an estimated $21.5 million over just the next nine months.

That’s more than 8 percent of the hospital’s 3,400-employee workforce. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Ben Botkin, the closure of outpatient oncology accompanies the job cuts, as well as the closure of the hospital’s outpatient pharmacy and its Lied clinics.

“UMC has to change the way it’s been doing business,” County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said. “It can’t be everything to everybody.”

The county demanded that UMC cut its losses. The hospital’s most essential services, including its trauma center, burn unit, organ transplant programs and children’s hospital, are too important to the valley to be weakened by services available elsewhere.

“I think the difference this time is the expectation is not for me to come back and hope for money,” Mr. Barnard said. “Hope is not an option for us.”

It’s far better to have a plan. Unfortunately, part of that plan involves taking what previously was public business and making it private. The County Commission voted 4-3 this week to ask state lawmakers to provide UMC’s board with an exemption to the open meeting law. The exemption, ostensibly to allow board members to discuss strategic and business plans outside the presence of competitors, easily could be abused to keep the public in the dark about hospital operations — which, by the way, are still losing money.

As long as taxpayers are the backstop for UMC’s finances, they must have complete access to board business. A public hospital must have the public’s trust. State lawmakers should reject the county’s bill request.