Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2017

Currently: 53° — Complete forecast


For Nevada Cancer Institute, a new way forward

Heather Murren

Heather Murren

Michael Yackira

Michael Yackira

Like other nonprofit organizations suffering from the recession, the financially beleaguered Nevada Cancer Institute is having to reshape and refine how it funds and executes its mission.

It’s not alone in the world of nonprofit foundations and health-related organizations, which are having to adjust to reduced levels of philanthropy.

In the immediate term, the Nevada Cancer Institute, whose presence elevated the quality and reputation of health care in Las Vegas, is laying off about half of its staff of 330 employees, the result of diminished charitable giving from corporate and private sources.

Those cutbacks will come primarily from the administrative, education and community outreach areas, as well as research that has only begun.

But its executives emphasize that the institute will remain true to its core mission — to treat cancer patients and pursue more fully developed research that will help improve treatments. To that end, the center will retain doctors, nurses, technicians and related staff to continue the treatment of patients in various stages of the disease.

“We can be very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far,” said Heather Murren, a longtime Wall Street financial analyst who, with her husband, Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, founded the Nevada Cancer Institute. “The question now is, where do we go from here? We will distill to our essence and carry forward. The emphasis is on maintaining staff that deals with patients and the research that is essential for those patients.”

Severing half the workforce was necessary to preserve the mission, she said, noting that the organization has hired a restructuring expert to aid the effort. “We need to make some very significant decisions at the Cancer Institute in light of the environment we’re operating in,” she said.

The Summerlin-based cancer treatment and research facility, which has treated about 15,000 patients since its 2005 opening, has experienced a decline in federal grant dollars and individual donations. The facility has raised $240 million in philanthropic giving to date, peaking at $58.1 million in 2006.

The institute has decided to postpone efforts to receive Comprehensive Cancer Center status from the National Cancer Institute, a move that would give the Las Vegas facility a significant boost in federal research dollars and the hiring of world-class talent.

Murren and board Chairman Michael Yackira, president and CEO of NV Energy, said they were working to determine where to turn for money.

“By right-sizing the organization, we will be in a position to continue,” Yackira said. “Our mission will be preserved and 10 years from now we’ll look back at this as a difficult time. We will flourish.”

The search for new funding sources won’t be easy, said Sharon Bond, a spokeswoman for the Giving USA Foundation, which tracks philanthropy.

“Giving hasn’t fallen off the face of the Earth, but it has shifted,” she said. Benefiting from that shift: organizations that provide food and shelter.

Corporate giving declined with the collapse of the economy. Similarly, federal, state and local government support fell off as their own revenues declined, cutting into grants, subsidies and tax breaks to a variety of nonprofit organizations throughout the country.

“Nonprofits are typically the last in and the last out of a recession,” said Sandy Miniutti, vice president of Charity Navigator, a national organization that monitors the financial operations of the nation’s nonprofit groups. “Historically, this is true.”

Charitable giving throughout the United States fell 3.6 percent in 2009 to $304 billion, according to Giving USA. That was down from $315 billion in 2008. The foundation is compiling the figures for last year.

“Overall giving doesn’t change a lot year to year, even in a recession,” Miniutti said. “People realign their giving, turning to food banks and shelters.”

The Three Square food bank in Las Vegas has benefitted by the shift. Rather than receiving the corporate and foundation gifts that were common during the economic boom, Three Square CEO Julie Murray says her organization is the recipient of more but smaller gifts. In fact, Murray was troubled to hear of the financial challenges faced by the Nevada Cancer Institute.

“I feel for them,” she said. “There are wonderful nonprofits out there who are hurting.”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy