Foundation’s good works, good will among casualties of UMC debacle

Volunteers who give their time, effort and heart and then are kicked in the teeth tend to hold a grudge.

Take the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada Foundation as one example. Between 1985 and 2006, the foundation raised $6.4 million for UMC’s pediatric programs.

One would think any group raising that much money for the perpetually indebted taxpayer-supported hospital would be treated with respect, especially when its founders consisted of an A-list group of old Las Vegans with connections and clout.

But when Lacy Thomas became the CEO of the hospital in 2003, apparently he didn’t want an independent foundation operating. He wanted one he could control.

Carolyn Sparks, who helped form the foundation in 1982, said that when Thomas was named to run the hospital, he attended their first meeting and welcomed the board. But at the second foundation meeting, it was entirely different. It became clear he didn’t support them. Her recollection of his words: “Don’t you try to cross me and don’t think you can go to the media with this.”

He wanted to dump the existing foundation and create one of his own, and he found ways to block their efforts, Sparks recalled. A former university regent and longtime Nevadan, Sparks is a straight shooter who doesn’t take guff. She said the board wasn’t about to be pushed around by this guy.

Thomas attempted to take over the foundation’s biggest fundraiser, the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon, but telethon organizers refused to work with UMC any longer and switched its allegiance to St. Rose Dominican hospitals, she said.

Sparks and Bill Flangas went to the Clark County Commission in January 2007, presented their final check and walked away. County commissioners were stunned.

At their next meeting, Thomas was fired. In February, he was indicted on 10 counts of theft and misconduct relating to hospital contracts.

Now, the county commissioners want the UMC Foundation resurrected. It might happen, but not with foundation mainstays Sparks or Flangas.

“Her indignation is righteous,” Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid said. “The foundation did wonderful work and were poorly treated by the hospital administration.”

Sparks said she won’t go back while Kathy Silver is administrator because “she should have stopped this, but she chose not to get involved.”

Silver, recently appointed to the top job, was an associate administrator under Thomas.

Silver responded to Sparks’ comment: “Most of us in administration were only peripherally aware of Mr. Thomas’ disagreement with the foundation, and only one or two people may have been able to persuade him to change his direction. I was certainly not among those one or two people.”

Now the commissioners and Silver want to mend fences and revive the foundation, which still exists as a nonprofit. She plans to create a new board of directors, and UMC’s marketing director will hire a coordinator for the foundation.

I doubt a coordinator will receive the same respect as a group that at one point included the late casino owner Bill Morris, the late Gov. Grant Sawyer and activists Lynn Weisner and Diana Wilson.

It’s going to take some effort to resurrect the group, but Dr. Dale Carrison, head of the emergency room, has committed to doing what he can to get it going again.

Now that the founders are gone, everyone has regrets.

But the loss of money as well as the loss of good will is going to be hard to replace.

Treating people like dirt comes back to smear you.

Meanwhile, something similar has happened to the Friends of Southern Nevada Libraries. That volunteer organization created in 1971 is now being sued by the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, which doesn’t care whether the Friends dissolves. The district wants to make sure it gets whatever money the Friends still have.

Once again, the dispute seems to be about who controls a nonprofit’s money, the nonprofit or the group it is trying to help.

Read more about the travails of the Friends of Southern Nevada Libraries in Thursday’s column.

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

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