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February 1, 2015

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Report: Without major changes, UMC could be forced to close


Sam Morris

The entrance to University Medical Center’s trauma unit and emergency room is shown in 2009.

Problems at University Medical Center may force the hospital’s closure, but county commissioners decided Wednesday they needed more time to consider a consultant’s recommendations before taking any action.

The region’s only public hospital faces an operating deficit of more than $100 million by 2014, a report from FTI Healthcare said. Commissioners approved a contract with the consulting company in August to study the possibility of transitioning UMC to a teaching hospital.

If major changes are not made, the hospital would be forced to “significantly reduce clinical scope or close within three years,” the report said.

But commissioners were unable to reach a consensus on the report’s recommendation to turn the hospital over to a 501c3 “public benefit corporation.”

Most commissioners seemed to support the idea but said they needed more time to look into it before taking any action.

The consultants said the 501c3 would allow the county to set up a board with more expertise in health care to oversee the hospital, freeing up county officials to worry about other issues.

It would also establish a foundation that could raise money and recruit doctors better than a county hospital, consultants said.

Commissioner Larry Brown said the suggestions are in line with other recommendations over the past two years, but the report brings a new urgency to the need for change.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak said the report left the commissioners in shock but was hesitant to move too quickly.

“You can’t eat an elephant in one bite, and I think we’re trying to swallow the whole thing,” he said.

Kerry Shannon from FTI Healthcare disagreed.

“You really are at a crisis point,” she said.

Sisolak said, “I’m not convinced we can do this all this quick, but I’m willing to listen.”

Commissioner Mary Beth Scow said it makes sense to set up a foundation to run the hospital, and the urgent need presents a good opportunity.

“I think there’s an opportunity here to make change that will benefit so many people,” she said.

Commission Chairwoman Susan Brager said the board needed to act immediately. “We can’t stand still,” she said.

But Chris Giunchigliani said the commission needed to be careful and study the issues more closely.

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, who is the chair’s the board when it acts as the hospital’s board of trustees, said he thinks the group has already acted too quickly on some recent changes.

“I don’t see how we can move this haphazardly,” Weekly said. “I don’t think we’re ready.”

In the end, the board didn’t take any action on the report, instead directing the hospital’s staff to set up a joint meeting for the commissioners to discuss the suggestions with a newly created hospital advisory committee.

The advisory board is scheduled to hear the consultants’ report on Feb. 9, but the soonest the two groups could meet would be March, UMC CEO Kathy Silver said.

Brown asked the hospital’s staff to also look into the possibility of closing the hospital. He said he didn’t think it was a good idea, but he wants to know the implications for the community.

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