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Grant to restore cancer programs at UMC

Budget cuts forced UMC to cut oncology program last year


Jeremy Twitchell

Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid and Nevada Cancer Institute CEO and Director Dr. John Ruckdeschel announce a $3 million grant that will allow the restoration and expansion of cancer treatment programs at University Medical Center.

Updated Thursday, May 28, 2009 | 4:41 p.m.

New digs, additional services and a $3 million grant will allow University Medical Center and the Nevada Cancer Institute to restore cancer treatment programs that the hospital lost in November amid state budget cuts.

A new partnership announced today will allow the Nevada Cancer Institute to open a satellite treatment center inside UMC early next year.

The outpatient oncology program that the hospital and institute previously operated was terminated in November when statewide cuts in Medicaid reimbursements made it financially unviable. Though hospital oncologists continued to see established patients, no new patients have been added.

Clark County, UMC and the Cancer Institute have been in negotiations since the hospital cut its oncology programs in November to find a way to reinstate them, but it took a grant from the Lincy Foundation, the philanthropic undertaking of billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, to make it happen.

The $3 million will fund the clinic’s renovation.

Dr. Jeffrey Wilkins, spokesman for the Lincy Foundation, said the foundation's overall goal is to improve access to healthcare and education in Southern Nevada. With that goal in mind, the foundation has been a strong supporter of the Nevada Cancer Institute since its inception, he said.

Wilkins said the foundation has been working to identify and assist cancer patients that slipped through the cracks when the UMC oncology program closed and decided to fund the new clinic when it saw the efforts that UMC and the Cancer Institute were taking to restore the program.

"We were quite happy when we found out that UMC and the Nevada Cancer Institute were doing what they could to move forward, so that's why we supported this," he said.

In addition to reinstating the outpatient oncology program, the new treatment center will offer radiation oncology services that doctors said will make it a true one-stop treatment center for cancer patients and provide the new clinic with long-term financial viability.

“Today is a victory for UMC. It’s a victory for the Nevada Cancer Institute and, most importantly, it’s a victory for all our citizens who are suffering with cancer,” Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid said. “This is not a stopgap measure. This fundamentally and permanently provides a way for us to care for some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The new radiation oncology services are key to the revamped arrangement, Reid said. They have higher reimbursement rates from insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid, which means that they will essentially subsidize the other treatment programs that are operated at a loss.

“Where as the clinic previously was a place where we lost money, the new clinic will be a potential source of revenue,” Reid said.

The Nevada Cancer Institute will renovate 6,000 square feet on the first floor of UMC, where the admitting area is located. The admitting area is scheduled to relocate when the hospital’s new entrance is completed later this year. Construction on the new clinic will begin immediately after the completion of the new entrance.

Newly appointed Nevada Cancer Institute CEO and Director Dr. John Ruckdeschel said he oversaw a similar arrangement between the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., and Tampa General Hospital, which allowed the two institutions to rescue foundering cancer treatment programs and make them financially viable.

“The Nevada Cancer Institute has a mission to reduce the burden of cancer for all Nevadans, and we take that mission very seriously,” Ruckdeschel said. “I’m confident that this plan will work.”

The new agreement between the Nevada Cancer Institute and UMC is a subtle but important difference, representatives of both said.

Previously, the hospital leased personnel from the institute to operate its treatment programs, and the cancer institute operated as a subcontractor to the hospital.

Under the new arrangement, the institute will lease the space from UMC and operate it under the Nevada Cancer Institute banner as an independent satellite clinic to the services it offers at its main campus. The staff will have full access to the institute’s research and clinical trials and doctors specializing in various forms of cancer will regularly rotate through the clinic.

Specific staffing agreements and cost-sharing strategies are still being worked out, but all parties involved agreed that whatever financial details emerge, the new program will be viable for all parties.

“Our message here today for cancer patients is pretty simple,” Reid said. “You are not alone in this fight. Our community is here to help you return to health, return to your family and return to your life.”

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