The Clark County Commission no longer has any business running University Medical Center. The region’s only public hospital loses nearly $2 million every week. Everyone who has looked at the accounting in recent years agrees that annual taxpayer bailouts approaching $100 million won’t last forever.
Fortunately, a majority of the commission realizes something has to change at the top if the hospital is to survive. In January, the commission backed a plan that would allow the panel to examine shifting oversight of the hospital to a nonprofit board of experts. The vote was 4-3.
Putting health care professionals, not elected politicians, in charge of a money-losing hospital is hardly a radical idea. It’s been done before, and the change was recommended by consultants. But it required the approval of the Legislature.
This led to a surreal scene earlier this month during a meeting of the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee: UMC Chief Executive Officer Brian Brannman, representing the majority of the commission, testifying in favor of the plan, and the three commissioners who voted no testifying against it. And it just so happened that two of three commissioners who opposed the plan — Tom Collins and Chris Giunchigliani — are former legislators. Lawrence Weekly joined the pair in usurping the votes of Larry Brown, Mary Beth Scow, Susan Brager and Steve Sisolak.
The plan, Assembly Bill 484, was killed. Lawmakers’ awful decision was akin to denying a potential life-saving drug to a critically ill patient. So the commission retains supervision of UMC, even though the hospital’s losses are growing under its watch, and even though a majority of commissioners want to give oversight to people with the experience and expertise necessary to execute a different business plan.
UMC provides vital services to the valley. Its trauma center and burn center are indispensable. But the hospital is also giving away so much costly care it puts all operations at risk. The only other idea on the table to solve UMC’s financial problems is a massive county property tax increase, championed by Ms. Giunchigliani.
That plan is a nonstarter. Voters last year overwhelmingly rejected a property tax to pay for school construction and renovations. Residents and businesses are struggling mightily to cover their health care obligations, and ObamaCare kicks into high gear in January — with huge tax hikes to boot. They won’t support dumping even more of their own money into UMC to cover the bills of others.
The County Commission isn’t capable of fixing UMC. Mr. Collins, Ms. Giunchigliani and Mr. Weekly have done a disservice to all county residents by doing an end-around to preserve the status quo. UMC, already on its death bed, soon will need to be gutted. Its blood will be on their hands.