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September 22, 2014

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Health sciences center in abstract no more

Shadow Lane center puts vision of unity, efficiency in living color

Face to Face: Another Challenge

How would more and steeper state budget cuts affect K through 12 education, as well as efforts to raise money for the university health sciences system? Jon asks a pair of experts. Plus, medical professionals ask the government to reconsider its approval of a multi-billion dollar healthcare merger.

The sounds of hammering, welding and cutting metal flood the main corridor of the Shadow Lane Clinical Skills and Simulation Center off West Charleston Boulevard.

In September, if all goes as planned, future doctors and nurses will file into classrooms and laboratories here to practice surgical techniques, care for mock patients and work with dummies so technologically advanced they can take fluids “intravenously.”

The $15.75 million Shadow Lane center is a project of the Nevada higher education “health sciences system,” an initiative to make health sciences programs at state colleges and the Desert Research Institute more productive by pushing them to share resources and coordinate their activities. The University of Nevada School of Medicine will occupy the facility, a renovation of existing space, along with nursing programs at UNLV and Nevada State College.

Higher education officials are busy touting the 31,000-square-foot facility as proof that the health sciences system, launched in early 2006, is worth the money the state and private donors have invested in it.

One important part of what the facility will do is help the community understand what the health sciences system is.

The state has never provided operating money for the initiative, and even some higher education employees have privately criticized the fledgling project’s hefty payroll. Together, six employees, including an executive vice chancellor who makes more than $400,000 a year, draw more than $1 million annually in salary and benefits.

Presentations administrators have given on the health sciences system are filled with words such as “integration,” “collaboration” and “coordination,” but such terms do little to explain to the general public how the initiative will improve health care in Nevada.

The Shadow Lane center, in contrast, is something tangible.

“This is such a great proof of concept for health sciences,” says Marcia Turner, the health sciences system’s vice chancellor for operations. “Instead of having three separate labs and three separate sets of equipment, it’s much more efficient to have a joint-use laboratory. And it’s also more effective, because nurses and doctors can train together.”

Turner says neither the School of Medicine, UNLV nor Nevada State College could have afforded to build such a center alone.

If successful, the Shadow Lane facility could help the health sciences system succeed in an area where it has struggled: raising big money.

Though the state set aside $88.7 million this biennium for constructing and renovating health sciences facilities, the allocation was contingent on health sciences officials raising another $38.7 million.

With Nevada entering a financial crisis and administrators making little progress toward the $38.7 million goal, legislators took back $65.5 million for constructing new health sciences buildings in Reno and Las Vegas.

The governor’s budget for the next biennium includes money for the new Reno building, but not the one in Las Vegas. Health sciences officials hope the Legislature will allocate money for both facilities, but neither will be built without additional funding from nonstate sources.

To date, the health sciences system has raised just $9.5 million, with $4.2 million of that dedicated toward the construction projects.

Maurizio Trevisan, executive vice chancellor of the health sciences system, says he’s optimistic about fundraising prospects in part because the Shadow Lane center will help donors understand where their money will go.

“We can say, ‘Look, this is what these things mean — three schools, two professions working together,’ ” he says.

Despite officials’ gushing, however, the facility might just be a bright spot in an otherwise dire time. The prolonged recession makes fundraising difficult, and with the state cutting public agencies’ budgets, many higher education health sciences programs are struggling just to maintain services.

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