Commissioners do right thing by relinquishing control of UMC

Relinquishing power isn’t easy, especially for Clark County commissioners. But after 10 years of resistance, the current board has come around and agreed to delegate most of the power of governing University Medical Center of Southern Nevada to an appointed hospital board.

Getting to this point hasn’t been simple.

This year alone, the discussion about creating a hospital board was marred by snotty remarks in January, successful efforts by a minority to block a majority vote to create a new governance board in April, and accusations of disrespect in May. And those are the things that played out in public. I have no idea what happened behind the scenes.

Commissioner Tom Collins scornfully referred to Commissioners Susan Brager and Mary Beth Scow as “PTA moms over their heads” because they supported a new board and he did not.

Commissioners Collins, Chris Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly went to the Legislature and successfully killed a bill enabling the commission to create a new hospital board, subverting the will of the majority of four.

Giunchigliani accused Chairman Steve Sisolak of being disrespectful toward Weekly in May because Sisolak, knowing he had four votes, made a motion to move forward with a hospital board creation.

But at the July 17 commission meeting, harmony reigned. Three objectors became supporters.

The credit for this new-found unity goes to Larry Gage, a health law and policy attorney from Washington, D.C.

Gage convinced Weekly, chairman of the UMC board, as well as Collins and Giunchigliani, that the only way to turn the hospital’s dismal financial picture around was to appoint a board that could spend more time on it than the seven commissioners could.

“Larry Gage met with us individually and talked about our concerns. He was an unbiased third party and he knew his stuff,” Sisolak said.

Gage, UMC CEO Brian Brannman and County Manager Don Burnette will select a five-person nominating committee to choose a slate of nine members for the hospital board.

The nominating committee will have the real power with winnowing down contenders and coming up with the names of the nine. Commissioners will not be involved in the selection of either group.

Gage doesn’t know the local scene but he founded the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, heading it for 30 years. He knows about changing how hospitals are governed. He also came across as someone who doesn’t dwell on the nonsensical.

“A new hospital board is not a panacea, it is a tool, but hospitals who have done it are more successful than those governed by elected officials,” he told commissioners.

Think you can run UMC? Now’s your chance. Check out the county manager’s office website to apply.

They will be looking for knowledgeable people without conflicts.

However, Gage said it’s more likely the nominating committee and the hospital board members will be recruited rather than culled from applications because both jobs are tough.

The chosen ones will have to deal with trying to reduce an operating loss of nearly $44 million in 2014.

The exact duties of the UMC hospital board members will be outlined in an ordinance later, but it won’t be easy in the ever-changing world of hospital care and reimbursements to hospitals from Medicaid and Medicare.

Gage first pitched changing the hospital governance to previous commissioners 10 years ago and two other studies made the same recommendation that a county hospital shouldn’t be run by elected officials who can’t devote enough time to it and don’t know health care issues.

It’s good to see commissioners work together on salvaging UMC’s finances by admitting they can’t do the job.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at or call 702-383-0275.


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