The nastiest, most significant division on the Clark County Commission has been healed. After years of fighting over the governance of University Medical Center and using the valley’s public hospital as leverage in political turf wars, commissioners finally have agreed to transfer oversight of the money-losing operation to a new board of directors.
The vote last month was unanimous, ending a spat that earlier this year saw a minority of commissioners persuade the Legislature to kill a reform proposal that had a majority of the panel’s support. Health care consultant Larry Gage convinced the three commissioners who wanted to retain control over UMC — Tom Collins, Lawrence Weekly and Chris Giunchigliani — that a separate board would be able to give the hospital more attention than elected commissioners and better attack this year’s projected losses of more than $40 million.
This has long been the most logical step in keeping UMC open. Commissioners rightly rejected a property tax increase earlier this year to reduce the losses; in this economy, it would be unconscionable to ask residents already struggling with medical costs to pay even more toward the care of the indigent, especially when the state is about to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare.
UMC needs expert leadership free of conflicts and politics. Under the plan adopted by commissioners July 17, County Manager Don Burnette and UMC CEO Brian Brannman will select a nominating committee by Sept. 1 with input from Mr. Gage. That committee will recommend between five and nine people to serve on the board, and commissioners will vote to confirm or reject the entire slate, rather than wrangle over individual appointments.
The board members, which should be in place by the end of the year, will have staggered three-year terms. An ordinance outlining specific duties and powers still must be approved. The new board should have the ability to make many decisions without commission intervention, but at the same time, the hospital’s finances must remain transparent. As long as county taxpayers are on the hook for annual bailouts, the public should receive a regular accounting of how the board plans to make UMC sustainable over the long-term.
Just a few months ago, the prospect of new UMC oversight appeared dead. Kudos to commissioners for coming together to acknowledge the limitations of the hospital’s existing governance structure, save taxpayer money and keep open a vital part of the county’s health care system and safety net.