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Officials seek more funds for UNLV medical school

CARSON CITY — University officials made their pitch to the Legislature Tuesday to increase the initial funding for a UNLV medical school beyond the $9.3 million that was included in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget so it can begin operating in 2017.

The Nevada System of Higher Education is looking for $27 million over the upcoming two-year budget as recommended by the Board of Regents. Under the proposal, the school would begin with 60 students in the fall of 2017.

Sandoval has recommended delaying the school’s startup by one year and so proposed the reduced funding, including $7 million in the second year of the proposed budget. There would be an additional $20 million in support coming in the next biennium.

UNLV Medical Dean Barbara Atkinson said the school could be developed under the funding proposed by Sandoval. But she suggested that the accreditation process could be jeopardized if the financial support is not viewed as adequate. The school is scheduled for a site visit early next year.

That site visit will be crucial to the school being able to accept students, she said.

“Those accreditors look for a base of support, this hard money support,” Atkinson said. “If they see $7 million as the base support I can assure you they will not see that as enough.”

The accreditation process could be delayed, but it might give rise to questions about the level of support for the school, she said.

A delay could also affect the ability of the school to solicit donations, Atkinson said.

Newly appointed UNLV President Len Jessup said the plan is credible and the two-year time frame is doable. The $27 million being sought is the right amount of money, but he acknowledged that lawmakers have a challenge in finding the additional funds.

The Southern Nevada community wants the medical school established as quickly as possible, Jessup said.

Chancellor Dan Klaich said the goal of opening the school in 2017 “is an aggressive plan but it is a solid plan.”

“We know we can do it,” he said. “We know we can fully utilize the funds.”

Klaich said the goal of the new medical school is threefold: to improve health care for Nevadans, assist in the economic development of the state, and improve the academic and achievement level of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Once fully developed, the medical school should provide an investment return beyond the level of state funding, he said.

“We think it is a great investment for the state,” Klaich said.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said university officials made a compelling case for the additional funding. But lawmakers on the money committees have to figure out where to find the money, he said.

Atkinson, appointed as dean in May 2014, said the medical school will be partnering with University Medical Center, the VA Hospital in North Las Vegas and other institutions to provide public medical education that is needed in Southern Nevada.

“Right now we have good residency programs but we need more of them and more doctors in them and more different kinds of specialties,” she said.

Medical students leave the state because the residency programs they want are not offered here, Atkinson said.

Currently, Nevadans who need a liver transplant or a bone marrow transplant have to leave the state, she said.

“Not because we don’t have doctors here who are capable of doing it, but because nobody has put together the program to actually make it happen,” Atkinson said.

Sandoval has also recommended $10 million in graduate medical education in the 2015-17 budget.

Alex Velto, a student government leader at UNLV, said the medical school is important to his constituents.

“They really want us to pursue that,” he said.

The short-term funding is needed to make the medical school sustainable over the long term, Velto said.

The overall plan for the higher education system is to develop the existing medical school into a full four-year program based at the University of Nevada, Reno, while simultaneously bringing the UNLV school up to speed.

The effort is being coordinated by a steering committee that reports to the Board of Regents.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.

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