Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2019

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Ruvo’s dream becomes real

Architecture created the buzz, but a medical partnership brings the expertise to propel Larry Ruvo’s center for Alzheimer’s care and study

Ruvo Main

Tiffany Brown

Larry Ruvo, center, shows the under-construction Lou Ruvo Brain Institute to, from far left, Dr. John Shepherd, Randy Garcia, Thalia Dondero and Nancy Shepherd in Las Vegas in January 2009.

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute (part 2)

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Larry Ruvo profile

Larry Ruvo relaxes during a break while interviewing Feb. 9 with ABC's 20/20 for a piece to air on the news magazine show March 6. Launch slideshow »

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute Exterior

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute Interior

As the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute exterior nears completion, the interior comes to life with intention. Details including colors, the use of natural light and the comfort of moving through the spaces were planned specifically for patients suffering from Alzheimers and other brain illnesses, seen in the Frank Gehry building in Las Vegas on Monday, Feb. 9, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute Staff

President and CEO of the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute, Dr. Zaven Khachaturian, poses at the institute on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Cleveland Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, seen on Monday, Feb. 2, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Cleveland Clinic Brain Lab

The brain is studied in the Cleveland Clinic department of neurosciences brain bank tissue laboratory at the  Cleveland Clinic on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Cleveland Clinic Staff

Dr. Michael Modic, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic neurological institute, poses in his office at the Cleveland Clinic on Monday, Feb. 2, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute

The Lou Ruvo Brain Institute will be run by one of the nation’s premier medical institutions, the Cleveland Clinic, under a partnership being announced today.

The brain institute, founded by businessman Larry Ruvo in honor of his late father, Lou Ruvo, will be devoted to research and treatment of neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s. The partnership is one of the most significant developments in health care in Las Vegas history.

The Cleveland Clinic is an 1,800-physician hospital that U.S. News and World Report ranks as the fourth best in the country and in the top 10 nationally in nine specialties, including neurology. It will run clinical and research operations at the brain institute when it opens July 1 as the renamed Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

“The partnership with the Cleveland Clinic makes this building become two words I’ve wanted from the beginning: indelible and perpetuity,” said Ruvo, chairman of the brain institute. “Those two words are what’s going to cure this disease.”

The clinic’s partnership with Ruvo will extend beyond Las Vegas, according to today’s announcement. Cleveland Clinic’s brain health centers in Cleveland, Weston, Fla., Toronto and the United Arab Emirates will also bear Lou Ruvo’s name.

Ruvo’s vision is audacious, and reasonable people might once have said it was impossible. Motivated by the trauma of losing his father to Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, Ruvo wants to make Las Vegas — which has a dismal reputation for health care — the world leader in dementia and Alzheimer’s clinical care and research. Ruvo’s aim is to do no less than cure Alzheimer’s, which afflicts about 5.2 million Americans.

At its inception, the brain institute was distinguished for its connection to another world-renowned name — architect Frank Gehry, who designed its headquarters.

Gehry’s iconic structure is contributing to the marketing of Ruvo’s vision by branding it and bringing it international attention.

The Cleveland Clinic partnership delivers the medical and scientific expertise to bring the vision to fruition.

The Cleveland Clinic’s presence in Las Vegas will raise the bar in patient care throughout the valley the same way that corporate investment redefined the city’s resorts, Ruvo said.

“A partnership with a major medical institution is going to take us to another level,” he said. “We’re a wonderful city, but you can’t be a great city without major medical care.”

Cleveland Clinic Chief Executive Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove said the partnership gives both groups the ability to tackle neurological degeneration in a new way. The Cleveland Clinic only recently started its Center for Brain Health, which will include the focus on treatment and study of Alzheimer’s and dementia, within its neurological institute. Both sides benefit from the partnership, Cosgrove said.

The Cleveland team brings its patient-centered organizational culture to Las Vegas, where it will have about a half-dozen doctors. The Las Vegas team will be supported by a staff in Cleveland of about 150 physicians of multiple neurological specialties, who can be involved in remote consultations, he said.

The Ruvo team brings passionate and skilled leaders with the marketing savvy to “focus national attention on research,” Cosgrove said.

“All the people involved in this have an overwhelming and driving passion about doing something for this serious problem,” he said.

Over the past five years, the Cleveland Clinic has considered launching a presence in Las Vegas.

The brain institute partnership is a feasible undertaking, clinic officials say, because it is more focused and involves Ruvo, an established community leader who has earned the community’s trust.

Clinic officials told the Sun the Ruvo partnership could be a foothold for a future expansion into other specialties. David Strand, Cleveland Clinic’s chief operating officer, called Las Vegas “our West Coast outpost.”

“We would see this as a first step” toward other possible medical ventures in Las Vegas, he said.

The Cleveland Clinic’s commitment to patient care will set new standards in Las Vegas. Patients are asked after their treatment whether they were treated with compassion and empathy — and that information is factored into the annual performance reviews of its physicians and communicated throughout the institution to ensure the clinic’s focus on the patient’s experience. They want to know when patients are pleased and when they are not.

“We don’t hide what’s not so good,” said Dr. Bridget Duffy, Cleveland Clinic’s chief experience officer. “In fact, it’s a great opportunity to come together to make things better.”

The Cleveland Clinic’s commitment to transparency includes publishing infection rates, surgical outcomes and physician conflicts of interest — all of which Las Vegas hospitals either don’t track or keep secret.

“That helps us strive to do better,” Duffy said.

The Lou Ruvo Brain Institute professes a similar passion for patients and caregivers, stemming from Larry Ruvo’s experience in Las Vegas when his father was stricken with the disease. In the early ’90s, when Larry’s father, Lou, first started exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s, it took nearly 18 months of misdiagnoses and doctor visits in Las Vegas before he was finally diagnosed in California. As his father deteriorated from the disease, Angie Ruvo, Lou Ruvo’s wife and caregiver, struggled to care for him. She says she picked him up so many times that she ruptured two discs in her back, requiring her to have surgery and leaving her barely able to walk.

Ruvo realized that if he — a wealthy man with vast resources — could not get proper care for his father in Las Vegas, then it didn’t exist. His vision is to address the emotional and social needs of the caregiver and the clinical needs of the patient, combined with research to cure the disease. He has helped raise about $60 million in donations and pledges toward the effort.

The partnership came together quickly because the two organizations’ philosophies are so closely aligned.

The Ruvo brain institute had been exploring partnerships with Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, UCLA and other institutions — many of which were attracted to the vision and interested in coming to Las Vegas.

Thus, when Ruvo and Cleveland leaders met, “it was like magic,” said Maureen Peckman, chief operating officer of the Ruvo institute. “We finished each other’s sentences.”

Peckman and Ruvo met with Strand and Cosgrove of the Cleveland Clinic for the first time at 6 a.m. Dec. 22 in the parking lot of the brain institute, in downtown’s Union Park.

“It was like meeting family again,” Strand said of the appointment.

After two hours of animated conversation, Peckman recalls Ruvo asking Cosgrove: “Do you have an interest?”

“Give us a shot at this,” Cosgrove replied.

“I want a deal by February,” Ruvo said.

Thus began a working holiday, as executives from both institutions began hashing out a deal that would unite the $5 billion Cleveland institution with the Las Vegas upstart. The agreement was signed this month.

Ruvo hopes to turn his model of care and research into a worldwide franchise. He plans to commission Gehry to design smaller clinics — he calls them “pods” — to be located in cities worldwide. Ruvo says he wants to become the “Golden Arches” of the field — standardizing treatment and a medical culture like McDonald’s does french fries.

Operating multiple clinics for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, and systematically building patient databases around the world to contribute to the research, will further empower scientists in their quest for a cure, Ruvo said.

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