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September 21, 2014

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Why troubled UMC is in County Commission chairman’s sights

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid speaks at a news conference detailing his cost cutting proposals for the county Monday, January 4, 2010.

Rory Reid news conference

Reid Cost-Cutting Proposal

Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid speaks to reporters after a news conference detailing his cost cutting proposals for the county Monday, January 4, 2010. Launch slideshow »
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Kathy Silver became CEO of University Medical Center in April 2008. Since then the public hospital has been plagued by gaffes, oversights and poor quality care, some that brought national embarrassment.

The call for Clark County to unload University Medical Center is framed by a string of scandals and mismanagement at the public hospital.

Rory Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission, called Monday for UMC to be turned into a nonprofit or teaching hospital or some other financially viable model, and for an examination of UMC’s quality of care.

His proposals come after a string of embarrassments at UMC dating back to January 2007, when Metro Police officers hauled out boxes of documents to investigate whether Lacy Thomas, then the hospital’s CEO, had awarded millions of dollars in no-work contracts to his cronies in Chicago.

Thomas was indicted on five counts each of theft and misconduct of a public official and is currently awaiting trial. The alleged malfeasance could have cost the county up to $10 million, prosecutors said.

Kathy Silver’s tenure as the current CEO has been loaded with gaffes, oversights and poor quality care — some that brought national embarrassment to the Las Vegas medical community.

In late 2008 UMC almost lost the Medicare funding for its kidney transplant program. The hospital’s appeals for leniency did not mention that the kidney transplant center had more than twice the expected death rate and dozens of recent failures to meet announced standards of patient care.

In one case, a hospital social worker did not meet with a patient after a May 2005 transplant, as Medicare requires, and the patient committed suicide days later.

Silver acknowledged failures in management of the program, even as she argued that it should remain open.

“I’ll be the first to admit that over the years not enough resources have been applied to this program,” Silver said at the time.

In November 2008, Silver shuttered UMC’s outpatient cancer center, throwing Las Vegas’ beleaguered health care in the national limelight with coverage on the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”

The program told of how several patients were suffering from cancer because they were uninsured and couldn’t get treatment at UMC. The hospital blamed the closure on state budget cuts.

Local oncologists say the closure occurred without consulting local physicians and UMC’s letter to patients made it sound as if uninsured patients would be welcomed by other providers.

UMC is now working to restore the cancer services.

In November, the Sun reported that private information about accident victims treated at UMC had apparently been being leaked to ambulance-chasing attorneys for months.

Sources told the Sun that someone at UMC was selling a compilation of the hospital’s daily registration forms for accident patients. The confidential information — including names, birth dates, Social Security numbers and injuries — could be used for identity theft. Releasing it is a violation of federal privacy laws.

Silver knew of rumors of the leaks since the summer, but said she doubted there was a problem until provided evidence by the Sun.

Even though the FBI quickly launched an investigation, hospital officials took almost four weeks to notify patients that their private information had been leaked.

UMC now faces a federal lawsuit for forcing a 25-year-old pregnant woman, Roshunda Abney, to wait more than five hours without treatment Nov. 30 while going through labor in its emergency room. Abney did not know she was pregnant and eventually left, stopping by Valley Hospital Medical Center before going home and delivering a premature baby who died.

An investigation by the Nevada State Health Division found that UMC failed to screen the woman in a timely manner, a violation of state laws that parallel the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, better known as EMTALA.

Abney is suing UMC and Valley in federal court. Her attorney said the hospital is not protected by any caps on damages under the federal law.

The UMC critics now include the hospital’s own doctors, two of whom told the Sun they are pulling their paying patients from the county hospital because of ongoing mismanagement. Surgeon Dr. Joseph Thornton offered records to the Sun showing his practice was bringing about $9 million in annual charges to UMC. He and his partner began diverting patients in recent months to other facilities.

The reason, Thornton said: “There’s no leadership over there. It’s gone from bad to worse.”

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