The prognosis for UMC is not good

University Medical Center
Photo: Sam Morris

In 2009, UMC sent shock waves through Las Vegas when it sent out thousands of letters telling cancer patients it would close its outpatient clinic for chemotherapy. Luckily, private funding came through and the clinic was spared, but the point had been made: The continued existence of UMC, Clark County’s only publicly funded hospital, is vital in a city whose reputation for health care is less than stellar.

Would that private funding could solve the ongoing problems at UMC. A report released this month by Tennessee-based consultant FTI Healthcare revealed the hospital lost more than $70 million last year—it collected $350 million but took a $200 million hit in unpaid bills, some of which was paid for by the $66 million in Medicaid the center received last year. The report also said that if dramatic changes aren’t made, that deficit will reach $100 million a year by 2014, all but forcing UMC’s closure.

Over the years, County Commissioner Steve Sisolak has suggested merging the Reno-based University of Nevada School of Medicine with UMC to create a research and teaching hospital. As he’s said many times, such institutions are attractive to philanthropists (although given Nevada’s education system woes, comparisons to the Johns Hopkins Hospital are perhaps a bit ambitious).

If the hemming and hawing continues, Sisolak says, UMC will indeed close and the money spent on the hospital will be used for vouchers that recipients can use at participating hospitals valleywide. “But UMC is a nationally recognized trauma care unit. There’s nothing else like it in Clark County,” Sisolak says. “Still, the train is coming down the track. Unless we get some more participants from the cities or the state, I don’t know how we’re going to be able to keep it open.”

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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