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July 28, 2015

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Commissioners threaten to sever UMC’s ties with UNR medical school

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Tiffany Brown

University Medical Center, which is Clark County’s only publicly funded hospital.

Milton Glick

Milton Glick

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Chris Giunchigliani

Chris Giunchigliani

Clark County commissioners told the president of UNR they don’t believe his promises and threatened to dissolve University Medical Center’s relationship with the university’s medical school if the new dean doesn’t live in Las Vegas.

The harsh talk came as commissioners struggle to plan a future for the hospital, the only such public facility in the region, which they oversee as the board of trustees.

The commissioners have expressed a desire to turn the financially strapped hospital into a true teaching institution. The hospital now has a basic relationship with the Nevada School of Medicine, part of UNR.

But commissioners have expressed frustrations with what they say is a lack of commitment from UNR and a worry that the state’s budget issues would only complicate the situation further at UMC.

UNR President Milt Glick, the school’s interim dean, a university regent and other school officials attended Wednesday’s board meeting but didn’t appear to ease the commissioners’ frustrations.

Glick said the new dean, Thomas L. Schwenk, who begins work in July, would have residences both in Reno and Las Vegas and that a vice dean would be in Southern Nevada full time.

He said Schwenk plans to do a “radical restructuring” of the school and that the school is committed to expanding its programs at UMC.

Commissioners said Glick’s message wasn’t enough.

“It’s always been an issue in Southern Nevada that the medical school has never paid attention to Southern Nevada. It’s nothing new. The promises have been made before that it’s going to change, there’s a new plan, a new idea,” said Commissioner Steve Sisolak, a former university regent. “A vice dean is insulting.”

Commissioners expressed similar concerns at a special meeting last month with the hospital’s advisory board. Since then, the medical school and UNR have appeared to reach out to the county, with Glick calling Sisolak the same week.

Schwenk followed that with a Tuesday night phone call to UMC CEO Kathy Silver.

Without divulging any details of the conversation, Silver said she was “pleasantly surprised” with what Schwenk had to say and that commissioners should give him a chance to explain his plans.

Commissioners said they would meet with Schwenk when he is in Las Vegas next week, but they seemed doubtful he would change their minds on the residency issue.

“I have no problem meeting with him,” Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said, but she still wants him to live full-time in Las Vegas.

“It’s about the message for Southern Nevada,” she said.

Giunchigliani also said she has heard unfulfilled promises from the school for years and asked the commissioners to discuss at a future meeting the process of dissolving UMC’s relationship with the medical school and to look into partnering with another school or creating a new school.

“You might give us a token part-timer, and we still don’t have really a true presence of the school of medicine down south,” she said to Glick.

Sisolak use Touro University, a private school that also has medical programs in the region, as an example of how school officials should be involved in the community.

The dean needs to help UMC raise money, Sisolak said. “But it can’t be raised in Southern Nevada and taken back up on a plane to UNR and build another building up there,” he said.

Sisolak said he did not want to move the whole medical school out of Reno. But, he said, “if you cannot make what I consider a relatively small concession, commitment, that this individual and his family reside in Southern Nevada, that’s telling to me, and it’s sending a very bad message. It just will not work.”

Glick said the university spent two years searching for a new dean and Schwenk was the only one of 25 candidates interviewed who was liked in both the north and south.

Sisolak complained, however, that the university did not talk to any of the commissioners during the search process.

He also said the problem with a vice dean is that he or she will not have any real authority, and all the decisions will still be made in Reno. “We want someone here who’s in charge,” he said.

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