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April 19, 2014

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UNLV med school: Only time will tell

In the debate over a proposed public medical school in Las Vegas, some people have questioned whether donors would support it. I am writing as the former director of Nevada giving for the Lincy Foundation. The foundation made several major grants to health care in Nevada, including to Nevada Heath Centers, St. Rose Hospitals, Nathan Adelson Hospice and Nevada Cancer Institute. Our gifts to NCI alone totaled about $60 million.

Donors, businesses and our community need a stand-alone medical school at UNLV. This is not a new conversation, and we have a dog in this fight.

Most of this funding occurred in the past 10 years, including a $5 million gift in 2008 to University of Nevada Health Sciences Foundation for a clinical simulation center. That gift proved critical for the UNR medical school, also known as UNSOM, the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Things were not looking good in 2009, and the accreditation review of the school by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education issued the school a “warning of probation,” finding that “Educational space has long been deficient on the Las Vegas UNSOM campus …” and that there was a “chronic ‘invisibility’ of UNSOM in the Las Vegas community ...”

In its response to the review, UNSOM highlighted its only new investment in years, which happened to be the Lincy Foundation gift. The center “provides five simulation rooms with accompanying debriefing areas and equipment, a large lecture hall … three 25-seat classrooms … and a large standardized patient assessment wing with 12 exam rooms.” The Lincy Foundation’s funding provided UNR medical school with improved visibility and clinical capacity.

Now, fast forward to a more current conversation, the Lincy Institute at UNLV (supported by a gift that the foundation made for $14 million) continues this investment by producing health policy research in Nevada. The Lincy Institute commissioned the recent study by the leading consulting firm Tripp Umbach, which found that by 2030, an independent medical school at UNLV could produce more than $1 billion in economic impact and add 8,000 jobs in the region. So regardless of our “need” for a medical school in the south, simply based on economics and return on investment, it could be a good idea.

Over the past month, the only retort to this data is that the south won’t support an independent medical school. Medical school Dean Thomas Schwenk has stated on multiple occasions, including at the recent Board of Regents meeting Dec. 5, that Las Vegas philanthropists are “confused” by the north-south divisions and are thus not contributing gifts to a Southern Nevada medical school. My guess is that Dean Schwenk uses such terms as “confused” because he has failed to raise even modest support for his vision despite employing a Las Vegas development staff.

As a major donor to health care in Nevada, the Lincy Foundation is the opposite of confused. We know precisely what UNR is selling, and we are not buying a second UNR medical school in Las Vegas. People are not interested in a second UNR campus of what Tripp Umbach found to be the single-least economically beneficial allopathic medical school in America — ranked 134th out of 134.

Philanthropy is often determined by geography. For instance, several major gifts to the UNR medical school by the Pennington and Redfield foundations have required that their funds stay in Northern Nevada. The Lincy Foundation could have required a similar constraint on its gift to the clinical simulation center and ask that only the nursing programs at UNLV, Nevada State College and the College of Southern Nevada have access. Rather, to benefit all Nevadans, our gift allowed the Reno-based medical school use of the facility.

I believe Schwenk would find a pool of donors in Las Vegas if he were asking for gifts for a UNLV Las Vegas-based medical school and not simply a branch of the UNR medical school.

Either way, I think Southern Nevadans should consider waiting for someone who understands us before we open our checkbooks. Only time will tell.

Lindy Schumacher served as the director of Nevada giving for the Lincy Foundation. Currently, she is CEO of the Fulfillment Fund Las Vegas, a nonprofit organization that helps promising yet educationally underserved and economically disadvantaged students.

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