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July 30, 2015

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Commissioners testify against bill to reshape UMC governance

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LAS VEGAS SUN FILE

UMC, owned by Clark County, is the region’s only public hospital.

Testimony over a Clark County-backed bill that would allow changes to University Medical Center’s management drew opposition from three commissioners Wednesday, exposing rifts among county leadership on the future of the hospital.

In January, the county commission voted 4-3 to support the bill over the objections of Commissioners Lawrence Weekly, Chris Giunchigliani and Tom Collins.

During testimony Wednesday before the Assembly Committee on Health and Human Services, those three publicly disagreed with the county-endorsed bill, which they say could threaten UMC’s mission as a safety net hospital.

“This is a slippery slope. We have a moral obligation to make sure we take care of the needy people in our community,” Giunchigliani said. “I would caution that no matter what happens with this bill, which I hope does not pass, that we be very cautious about unintended consequences.”

AB484 would allow the Clark County Commission to establish a nonprofit subsidiary corporation with its own board of directors to operate and oversee UMC. The Clark County Commission currently serves as UMC’s governing board, with Weekly serving as the chairman and Giunchigliani as the vice-chairwoman.

The change is meant to provide the hospital an independent governing board of health care and business experts who could presumably devote more time to solving the hospital’s problems.

Giunchigliani, Collins and Weekly told legislators that changing UMC’s governance structure wouldn’t address underlying revenue issues that cost the county tens of millions of dollars per year.

Collins called the proposed changes “unproven” and said it was an instance of “government trying to pass the buck.”

Weekly said the proposed legislation wasn’t “genuine” and was being fueled by special interests. He said commissioners should spend more time working on hospital issues before offloading those responsibilities to an independent board.

“If you move forward with this … what you’re going to see down the line is a whole bunch of special interest folks coming out of the woodwork and UMC won’t be that safety net hospital anymore,” Weekly said. “I don’t think enough time has been spent as a board caring for this hospital like we should.”

Giunchigliani said county commissioners need to have the “courage” to take serious action to fix UMC’s financial situation, including possibly creating a countywide tax to help pay for hospital operations.

“We have to clean up our own house to some extent and we don’t need AB484 to do that,” she said. “This bill diverts us from that discussion. We’re not dealing with how do we fund the hospital or add to our payer mix.”

The proposed changes to UMC also drew opposition from several labor unions and employees at the hospital. Those supporting the bill include UMC CEO Brian Brannman, Clark County and the business community.

The committee took no action on the bill Wednesday. If no further action is taken by Friday, it will not be eligible for passage this session.

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