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Nevada higher education officials close Health Sciences System after 10 years

Nevada’s higher education system has eliminated a decade-old department dedicated to helping the state’s colleges develop training for health care workers.

Sources familiar with the decision said the Nevada System of Higher Education closed the Health Sciences System because its role has diminished as UNLV develops its nascent medical school. Those sources also said the system ran out of private money raised for HSS expenses.

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, officials said the department was “phased out” to let colleges take the reins of their own health care initiatives with less NSHE oversight.

“The HSS team did an outstanding job of putting Nevada in a strong position to improve our state’s health care education partnerships,” interim NSHE Chancellor John V. White said in the statement. He praised director Marcia Turner, saying, “Marcia and her team were critical to creating and enhancing several substantial collaborations between our institutions.”

POWER SHIFT

Higher education officials have long sought ways to merge operations across Nevada’s seven public colleges, and the decision to eliminate the department contradicts those efforts. The decision will likely please lawmakers who have condemned NSHE’s consolidation strategy as a power play to bolster the agency’s governance and shrink the influence of its schools.

“At first blush, this change appears to be a positive way to empower institutions,” said Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, D-Las Vegas, who is among a several policymakers drafting bills to overhaul NSHE’s governance structure. “Workforce needs can be well-addressed at the regional level. Each community is different.”

NSHE has spent millions in recent years on efforts to merge the institutions. One expensive project, called Integrate 2, was aimed at transforming how the Nevada System of Higher Education handles money and manages employees, streamlining everything from the way it pays contractors to how it hires college presidents.

That program is costing NSHE at least $41 million and has been recently delayed by a year, now set for completion in October 2017.

“With an eye toward empowering the institutions, the time has come to decentralize,” Rick Trachok, chairman of the Board of Regents overseeing NSHE, said in Friday’s statement.

COST SAVINGS

Closing the HSS will save NSHE about $381,715 in salary, fringe and operating costs annually, NSHE spokesman John Kuhlman said. The department ran out of donated money in late 2011.

Kuhlman said four employees were affected by the closure, but he declined to say whether those people lost their jobs, citing employee privacy concerns. Sources, however, said Turner — who has been credited with helping UNLV establish its fledgling medical school — was laid off. Attempts to reach her Friday were unsuccessful.

“I want to emphasize how important Marcia and her team have been to help us get started,” said Dr. Barbara Atkinson, the founding dean for UNLV’s medical school. “She really has been an incredible help.”

Atkinson added that Turner played a key role in helping medical school supporters wade through NSHE bureaucracy to advance the effort. UNLV hopes to welcome its first medical school class next year inside a renovated section of it’s dental school while a permanent building is constructed at the Las Vegas Medical District.

Regent Mark Doubrava, who sits on a Board of Regents committee tasked with overseeing medical education programs at the state’s colleges, backed NSHE’s decision and said it was long overdue.

“This …closes a chapter in the story of health and medical education in Nevada,” Doubrava said. “Now with the medical school in its infancy, if we look at the role now of the Health Sciences System, I don’t think there is any role.”

Contact Ana Ley at aley@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512. Find @la__ley on Twitter.

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