University will close Nevada Cancer Center

The University of California San Diego Health System made it official on Wednesday, announcing that it would lock the doors on the Nevada Cancer Institute early next year.

That fate seemed certain last week, when Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada pulled out of talks to lease more than a fourth of the institute’s flagship building. A deed restriction attached to land under the building forbids a for-profit oncology practice, including Comprehensive Cancer and almost all others in Las Vegas, from moving into the building.

Universal Health Systems, which owns nearby Summerlin Hospital Medical Center, insisted on the clause nearly a decade ago and refused to allow any exceptions.

“Without partners with whom to collaborate in Nevada, UC San Diego Health Systems cannot sustain adequate patient volumes in Las Vegas and therefore must close the institute practice,” said a statement by the school.

The final day has been set for Jan. 31. The 350 outpatients now receiving outpatient care will soon receive formal notification in the mail along with guidance on how to find new physicians and obtain medical records, according to UC San Diego.

At this point, none of the patients are being started on new treatment cycles such as radiation, but are only finishing what has already under way.

The 75 people still on the staff will be eligible for three months severance. The majority involved with inpatient care must stay until the final day, but unspecified others will become eligible sooner.

The announcement also brings to an end the decadelong struggle, backed by several business luminaries including MGM Resorts International CEO James Murren and his wife, Heather, to build not only a prominent cancer treatment center but a research facility as well. Heather Murren, at one point, served as the institute’s CEO.

Many economic development officials touted the institute as a spearhead to diversifying the local economy into sciences.

But debt mounted to about $100 million, leading to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing a year ago.

UC San Diego emerged as the only buyer for the institute, paying $18 million for the flagship building and the practice while receiving a $20.8 million fundraising pledge spread over five years from the independent Nevada Cancer Institute Foundation.

“When UC San Diego Health System purchased the (institute) out of bankruptcy, its goal was to revitalize and expand the institute’s oncology practice,” said Dr. Tom McAfee, the system’s dean of clinical affairs.

But after changes in the system’s leadership and financial situation, UC San Diego decided that the institute was too small to stand on its own and at least break even. “To succeed, our team determined that we needed to partner with community oncologists to attract local patients.”

But the deed restriction effectively blocked UC San Diego’s strategy of becoming a landlord and offering certain medical services to the physician tenants.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at or 702-387-5290.

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