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October 22, 2014

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New developments downtown are backdrop for discussion on Las Vegas as health care hub

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Mona Shield Payne / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Brian Brannman, Chief Executive Operator of University Medical Center, speaks during the paneled discussions on downtown medical developments hosted by the Southern Nevada Medical Industry Coalition at the Historic 5th Street School Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Downtown medicine

Brenda Hughes, Sr. Economic Development Specialist with the Las Vegas Economic and Urban Development Department, answers questions to guests attending the networking reception prior to the paneled discussions on downtown medical developments hosted by the Southern Nevada Medical Industry Coalition at the Historic 5th Street School Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Leaders from some of the valley’s biggest medical institutions struck a positive tone as they laid out a vision for the future of health care in Las Vegas centered on a premier medical district downtown during a forum Tuesday night.

Despite an array of challenges facing the medical industry — including a general lack of doctors, few specialized fellowship programs and a still maturing medical education system — several new developments downtown offer an opportunity that has medical leaders dreaming of transforming Las Vegas into a health care powerhouse.

“We didn’t grow the proper way and we’re experiencing those growing pains today,” said Doug Geinzer, CEO of the Southern Nevada Medical Industry Coalition, which organized Tuesday’s event. “If you look at the core of any city you’ve got an urban core and part of that is a health care delivery system. We’ve been missing that.”

Tuesday’s forum, hosted at the Historic Fifth Street School, was one of several conversations the SNMIC is hosting this year on a variety of health care-related topics. Geinzer said the gatherings are meant to generate new ideas and get more people invested in efforts to grow the medical industry.

Much of the hope for the industry lies in the already established medical district centered on University Medical Center and Valley Hospital that also includes the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada is also looking to join the downtown scene by opening a clinic to provide free care to uninsured patients. The nonprofit group, which relies on donated time from doctors and other staff to treat hundreds of patients a month, already runs a clinic near Tropicana Avenue and McCleod Drive but it’s in the process of fundraising to open a new building downtown sometime next year, said CEO Dr. Florence Jameson, one of five panelists who fielded questions from the audience of about 100 people Tuesday night.

As part of its campaign to revitalize the area, the Tony Hsieh-backed Downtown Project is also looking to make a splash in the health care industry with a new, unique model that focuses on preventative and primary care. Instead of using insurance, patients would buy less costly memberships to the clinic, which will be located in a 7,000-square-foot space at 701 Bridger Ave.

“We don’t think insurance has a place in primary care. We don’t use auto insurance to rotate our tires, change our oil or do preventative maintenance on our cars,” said Dr. Zubin Damania, another panelist who is leading the project. “So instead what we’re going to do is offer a flat membership fee of less than $100 … that covers full access to our care.”

Other panelists Tuesday included UMC CEO Brian Brannman, Cleveland Clinic associate medical director Dr. Charles Bernick and Valley Hospital CEO Jay Finnegan.

The mixing of innovative models with more established and well-financed medical institutions downtown could provide the catalyst Las Vegas’ medical industry needs. But doing so will take cooperation from a variety of community partners and long-term planning and leadership, Geinzer said.

“This is the start. We’ll be having this conversation in 10 years. We’ll be having this conversation in 20 years,” he said. “It’s not where do we go, it’s how do we make it bigger and better. It’s our intent to become a global health and wellness destination.”

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