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December 20, 2014

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ANSWERS: CLARK COUNTY:

UMC board chairman absent as hospital’s future discussed

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Tiffany Brown

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor, Dan Klaich, from left, County Commission chairman Rory Reid, former chancellor Jim Rogers, board of regents chairman James Dean Leavitt and commissioner Steve Sisolak announce plans to transform UMC Hospital into public-private teaching hospital, during a press conference at the Government Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Lawrence Weekly

Lawrence Weekly

UMC Press Conference

County Commission chairman Rory Reid, from left, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor, Dan Klaich, board of regents chairman James Dean Leavitt and commissioner Steve Sisolak announce plans to transform UMC Hospital into public-private teaching hospital, during a press conference at the Government Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Jan. 13. Launch slideshow »

Why wasn’t Commissioner Lawrence Weekly at the help-is-on-the-way-for-UMC news conference Wednesday? Isn’t he the commissioner who is chairman of the county hospital’s board of trustees?

Yes, he is chairman of that board and has been for more than a year. So when County Commission Chairman Rory Reid announced that Jim Rogers volunteered to head up an effort to find top-tier medical organizations to partner with University Medical Center to turn it into a true teaching hospital, Weekly’s absence was conspicuous. The state’s higher education chancellor was there. The chairman of the Board of Regents was there. Commissioner Steve Sisolak was there. And yet the chairman of the hospital’s board was not.

Why not?

Weekly said he was asked to attend the news conference, but it had been scheduled so quickly he could not get out of a prior commitment. He also said he had been invited to a meeting beforehand where the idea of Rogers coming in to take the reins was discussed, but also had a prior engagement.

So is UMC important to Weekly or not?

Weekly has a story to explain his dedication to the hospital. A few years ago, when he was still a Las Vegas city councilman, his daughter broke her thigh bone at a school playground. Weekly took her to UMC — and they waited 6 1/2 hours before anyone helped them.

“I was so emotionally distraught. I’m sitting there looking at my baby,” he said. “The paramedic even tried to get us help and it didn’t work.”

Perhaps the worst part was that help only came after he was recognized, he said. He overheard a UMC staffer say, “I think he’s a city councilman.” Then he was asked if he was, to which he replied: “What the hell does that matter?”

“The next thing you know, they rushed her into emergency surgery. At the time, I said I would never go back there again.”

But after Gov. Jim Gibbons appointed Weekly to the Clark County Commission, his fellow commissioners appointed him to lead the UMC board.

“After a lot of prayer,” Weekly said, “I went back (to the hospital) ... and I met some of the best men and women on Earth working there.”

And his feelings about what’s going on?

Weekly said he’s happy that movement is taking place, that people are talking, and he thinks Rogers is a “great resource.” At the same time, he admits frustration that the board hasn’t been allowed more time to discuss the possible changes. In November, it decided it was going to form committees to look closely at several options, including putting together a permanent hospital board — not made up of county commissioners — to oversee hospital operations.

The concern is that UMC’s financial problems are growing. In the current fiscal year, Clark County taxpayers will subsidize operations with about $140 million.

Suddenly two weeks ago, Reid pushed the County Commission to move toward transferring the hospital to a nonprofit organization or tying it more closely to the university system. Weekly and Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani voted against it. A week later came the Rogers announcement.

Weekly worries things are happening too fast and without enough input from commissioners, who are ultimately held responsible for whatever goes right or wrong at the hospital.

•••

The county commissioner who has been the most openly critical of the $200,000 average annual salary and benefits enjoyed by county firefighters is getting threatening phone calls.

Which commissioner, and what exactly is going on?

Sisolak is getting phone calls from blocked phone numbers from men who say things like “you better watch your back” and “you better hope your house doesn’t catch on fire.”

“I guess I’ve become sort of the poster child for the ire of some firefighters,” he said.

But, Sisolak added he still thinks most firefighters appreciate the commissioners’ need to start being better stewards of the public’s money.

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