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November 29, 2015

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j. patrick coolican:

Benefits of a medical school in Las Vegas would far outweigh the cost

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Build a medical school.

There’s a lot to chew on in a 178-page report presented to the Economic Development Board on Monday, but that one stood out to me for its short- and long-term benefits.

The report, prepared by researchers with the Brookings Institution and SRI International, is a “sector analysis,” a guidebook for policymakers on what areas of economic activity we should try to specialize in and what policies to enact to get there. Not surprisingly, health care is near the top of the list.

Why do we have so much potential for growth in health care? It’s not because we’re going to become a place people fly to for care like the Mayo Clinic — though we can shoot for that. It’s because we have so far to go just to be adequate. It’s as if we’re a city of two million people and only five grocery stores.

(Though, I admit, we do seem to have more than enough plastic surgeons.)

“Bringing the low level of medical service production in Nevada just somewhat closer to the national average would generate substantial, stable economic activity and high quality jobs in the state while improving health outcomes,” the report states.

The report says what we know is true anecdotally from friends and family and often our elected officials and business leaders: “Many patients (if financially able) go out of state for specialty care and procedures.”

We have some idea why this is so. We haven’t invested in our health care infrastructure, which is one of several reasons we have trouble attracting enough talented health care professionals.

See my colleagues’ investigation of Las Vegas hospital care, “Do No Harm,” for instance. Experts told my former colleague Marshall Allen that academic medicine — med schools — promote a culture of quality across a community’s health care sector.

Monday’s report states under “Industry Constraints”: “Inadequate medical education and research activities in the state’s largest medical market.”

Our best med students leave Las Vegas, and too often they never return. We also can’t get the same research and philanthropic money. It’s not as if anyone is eager to give a boatload of money to University Medical Center or one of our for-profit hospitals. (The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is the nice exception.)

In the end, too many of our patients receive mediocre care, or they go elsewhere.

The report notes the med school in Reno has a footprint here, but “compared to similarly sized or smaller cities in the Western U.S. region — such as Denver, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Tucson and Phoenix — all of which have highly research-oriented medical schools, Southern Nevada is undeniably placed at a disadvantage.” No kidding.

There’s more to say about the report, and I’m sure I’ll return to it in future columns. But for now, all I can say is, build a med school for crying out loud.

We don’t have the money? This is the economic equivalent of declining to buy yourself eye glasses because you can’t afford it.

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