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UMC deserves respect for quality of medical care

It is maddening.

Taxpayer-supported University Medical Center offers areas of care where the outcomes are as good as, and sometimes even better than, what can be found anywhere in the U.S. Yet that fact seems to get lost on too many of the employer-insured who consider hospitals for procedures.

The surgical teams are remarkable. Consider this fact from the National Trauma Data Bank: Of those who arrive alive at Nevada’s only Level 1 trauma center — where many have less than a 1 percent chance to live — 96 percent survive and are discharged.

How come this excellence hasn’t translated into more paying patients so the seemingly never-ending financial angst of UMC ends? It is, after all, where the president of the United States goes if he has a bellyache, heart attack or something more serious while he’s in town.

Why does the patient mix consist of only 26.1 percent with private insurance? Yes, UMC is different from most other hospitals, because of its emergency and trauma work many patients come through the emergency room. But just a 4 percent increase per year in well-insured patients making UMC their hospital of choice for procedures would wipe out the hospital’s annual $30 million operating deficit, according to CEO Brian Brannman.

Is the problem administrative blunders? The latest in a string was revealed in last Monday’s Review-Journal when it was reported the UMC Foundation lost nonprofit status because tax returns for the fundraising unit weren’t filed with the IRS.

Talk about dumb.

Might possible patients wonder if UMC has its medical act together when administrators act stupidly outside the operating room?

Or is an aversion to the poor — 55 percent of UMC patients are either uninsured or on welfare programs — the real culprit?

Even though 1 percent of the nation now controls 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, many people still cling to the American dream that anyone in this country can make it, meaning those who do not, and need assistance, must not be trying. That they’re often not respected and shunned is an understatement.

Single moms raising a family on minimum wage — often working three part-time jobs without getting insurance — may be the nation’s hardest workers. Yet, few see them that way. If they had initiative, they’d have private insurance the thought goes.

Given that ingrained mindset against the poor, it doesn’t surprise Dr. Meena Vohra, UMC pediatrics chief, that there are those who won’t give UMC a chance unless absolutely necessary — say a head-on crash on Main Street.

“People can’t believe a place that even serves those who can’t pay gives great care,” she said.

Compare UMC with other hospitals and it holds up well. Registered nurses comprise 72 percent of the nursing staff, nearly 10 percent higher than the rate at 1,800 other medical centers nationwide. Studies show that guarantees better outcomes.

If Bubba gets seriously hurt, UMC has the state’s only pediatric trauma center, and its pediatric intensive care unit was one of five such units in the U.S. recently to have zero bloodstream infections, ranking it ahead of the Mayo Clinic and UCLA.

Dr. John Fildes, head of adult trauma, had such success with UMC that the American College of Surgeons named him chair of the national committee on trauma. Dr. Dale Carrison, emergency director, served as the state’s homeland security chief.

The American Heart Association made UMC’s cardiology center the most highly awarded in Nevada. Now ranked with the nation’s top kidney transplant centers, UMC is also the state’s top teaching hospital, serving the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

A study of stroke, hip fractures, heart failure and coronary heart disease published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that care at premier teaching hospitals led to better overall survival.

Why? Things don’t get overlooked when throngs of interns and residents are also studying your case.

Summerlin’s Lisa Lawes knows the well-off often don’t consider UMC for care. She believes that could be a costly mistake.

She saw how hospital staff saved her husband’s life after a 2011 motorcycle crash that caused multiple injuries, including an aorta tear that is fatal 98 percent of the time. George Lawes returned to work as a banker.

“I admit our family never thought we would go there (UMC),” Lisa Lawes said. “But now that we have, we see that it has such an advantage being associated with the University of Nevada School of Medicine. At a teaching hospital, they’re always working to do it the right way. … It is a jewel that we should treasure in this community.”

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@review journal.com or 702-387-2908.

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