The Clark County Commission and Las Vegas City Council jointly met this week to deliberate plans for the future of a medical and academic hub where both governments say they have made significant investments.
It was a public signal of collaboration and rare occurrence: Officials said they could not recall a previous time when the jurisdictions met together.
Sensing a chance to seize on recent momentum at the Medical District, a 214-acre cluster of hospitals, clinics and a university medical school just west of downtown Las Vegas, officials set out to chart a course to make the district the most elite in the southwestern U.S. by 2030.
“Now is the right time to spearhead the future of medicine in our community,” said Councilman Brian Knudsen, who oversees Ward 1, where most of the medical district is located.
The bold effort to put the district on the map includes a plan to triple its footprint while encouraging an urban mix of development ranging from very low-density buildings to some with 10 or more floors. Expanding UNLV’s School of Medicine is a major part of the plan.
The intention behind the effort is two-fold: boost accessible health care in the region and grow the local economy.
Lagging in doctors
Nevada lags behind the country with just 200 physicians for every 100,000 residents and would need to add 1,679 new physicians to meet the national standard of 257, Las Vegas economic development chief Bill Arent said.
Officials anticipate that developing new academic, medical, research, clinical and office facilities in the district could result in 24,182 new jobs and a $3.6 billion total economic impact in 10 years.
“We need to be able to attract the best of the best (health care professionals), and we need to be able to grow health care as an industry here, not just for the provision of health care services, but to actually grow our economy,” Arent said.
But one major hurdle to keeping locally trained doctors from leaving the region, officials acknowledged, will be expanding residencies for doctors after graduation.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman said lobbying the state Legislature to hold yearly sessions and urging lawmakers to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates would also go a long way in attracting and retaining doctors. It was one of four issues she pledged to tackle over the next five years during the city’s annual State of the City address in January.
Both governments say they have invested millions of dollars into the district, which although on city land is also home to University Medical Center, a county-owned hospital that supports clinical rotations for the UNLV School of Medicine. And private donors recently committed to bankroll a UNLV medical school building expected to be built by 2025.
UMC and the UNLV School of Medicine have also started co-branded advertising with an academic medicine theme, according to Dr. John Fildes, the interim dean at the school.
The layers of collaboration come as city lawmakers recently declared that health care was one of their top three priorities over the next-half decade, but officials also stressed that the district’s success would be fruitful for Southern Nevada as a whole. Doctors trained at the university will most likely go on to practice in clinics and hospitals throughout the region, they said.
“That impacts our entire region on a go-forward basis,” said Maureen Shafer, the CEO of the Nevada Health and Bioscience Asset Corporation, which will manage how the private funds are spent on the new medical school building.
For Knudsen, who spoke about having a sick child and being forced to navigate “a variety of different systems” upon leaving UMC, the plan is to simply bring robust health care into the center of the Las Vegas Valley.
“It’s not useful, it is not helpful,” he said about the current system, “and Nevada can do significantly better. But it’s going to take a concerted effort on behalf of every elected official and every leader within our community to make sure that health care can be better going forward.”
Commissioner Lawrence Weekly called a district expansion, which could include a parking garage on Shadow Lane to support an influx of visitors, a “great project” that follows collaboration between the city and county that is often less visible.
“We’re on our way and we can get there if we can get out of our own way,” he said.
Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said she and Goodman would coordinate follow-up plans.