If Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid is correct, the first step in turning the financially strapped University Medical Center into a thriving research and teaching hospital was taken Wednesday.
The UMC board of trustees, of which Reid is a member, approved an agreement between the county and the Nevada System of Higher Education to identify consultants who would analyze opportunities that come out of a joint venture between the hospital and the University of Nevada School of Medicine.
“It’s the beginning,” Reid said after the meeting. “All options are on the table.”
The consultants would also assist in updating existing analyses of UMC’s financial operations, with a focus on hospitals across the country that have also made the transition from a struggling county hospital to one that is financially solvent.
Funding for the studies, which UMC CEO Kathy Silver said should take no more than four months, would be split between UMC and the state’s higher education system.
Silver and UMC’s chief operating officer Brian Brannman said Wednesday that they expect public hospitals in Las Cruces, N.M., home of New Mexico State University, and Tucson, Ariz., where the University of Arizona is based, will be analyzed by consultants.
“They’ve gone through some of same problems,” Brannman said.
Jim Rogers, former higher education chancellor, who at Reid’s request has been spearheading an effort to turn UMC into an institution that can support itself, reminded trustees that change won’t come quickly.
“This could take 10 years,” he said.
Rogers has said it is critical for UMC’s financial viability that the hospital become more closely aligned with the University of Nevada School of Medicine. But the medical school is one of the nation’s smallest and also one of the lowest funded, admitting only 62 students a year. It’s also unable to provide training in critical specialities, such as cardiology and radiology.
Neither Rogers nor Reid, who is running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, have any details on how a partnership between two underfunded entities can be profitable.
“That’s why we’re having studies done,” Reid said.
The two also suggest that an independent board be appointed to oversee UMC’s operations. The board is now largely comprised of county commissioners.
Rogers frequently points to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the nation’s top medical school, and its four hospitals in Maryland as the kind of system the University of Nevada School of Medicine and UMC could become.
In Baltimore, Johns Hopkins took over a public hospital that was losing big money 20 years ago and the facility now operates in the black.
The $10 billion a year in economic activity that the Johns Hopkins system generates is more than three times the annual state budget of Nevada.
UMC has been plagued with heavy financial losses, in large part because it is required as a public hospital to treat poor and uninsured patients.
The hospital lost $82 million last year and received a total of $140 million in taxpayer subsidies.
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at email@example.com or 702-387-2908.