Thursday, July 21, 2011 | 5:49 p.m.
The UNR School of Medicine wants to buy a house in Clark County for up to $400,000 for its new dean to help increase the school’s “presence and commitment” to health care in Southern Nevada, university officials said Thursday.
The Nevada System of Higher Education’s investment and facilities committee tentatively approved UNR’s request to begin purchasing a home, which the university would own, for Dean Tom Schwenk.
“Given the market situation and the increased emphasis on the School of Medicine’s presence in Las Vegas, we think it’s very important that we have a residence for the dean of medicine in Las Vegas,” UNR President Marc Johnson said.
The university system’s Board of Regents approved Schwenk’s contract and $500,000 starting salary in June. Schwenk, who comes to Nevada from the University of Michigan Medical School, started work this month. He has decided to live in Reno, purchasing a home with his money, spokeswoman Anne McMillin said.
However, Schwenk would divide his time and attention equally between Reno and Las Vegas, where the teaching hospital — University Medical Center — is located.
Previous deans resided in Reno, but were either given access to a university-rented apartment in Las Vegas or more recently, reimbursed for extended hotel stays, McMillin said.
For years, this arrangement stoked north-south tensions. It’s a widely held perception in Southern Nevada that the medical school pays cursory attention to Clark County, County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said. (UMC is overseen by Clark County commissioners.)
“The medical school is funded as a statewide program and Southern Nevada just hasn’t gotten enough attention,” said Sisolak, who was a regent for 10 years. “When you’ve got a dean who’s focused on Northern Nevada, you can’t understand the problems we face in Clark County.”
As a result, Clark County commissioners are looking at breaking the hospital’s affiliation with the medical school, Sisolak said.
The dean’s house might bring more attention to the cash-strapped UMC, but just purchasing a home “isn’t going to solve the issue,” Sisolak added.
“The investment in the house, maybe that’ll be a precursor to an investment in time,” he said. “If (Schwenk) is going to be here every week, living in the home with his family and is active in the community, that’s going to go a long way.”
The house ideally would be in downtown Las Vegas near UMC, Johnson said. Final approval to purchase a home must be voted on by the regents.
Committee members said they support the house purchase.
Regent James Dean Leavitt said he “strongly supported” UNR’s request, but proposed raising the cost-cap for the house to $750,000. The higher amount would pay for more space to entertain potential donors, he said.
“We intend to use this residence as a way to bolster substantial private giving from the Las Vegas medical community,” Leavitt said. “I’m not suggesting we be overly opulent, but I think the dean needs to look a certain way, and I think we need to help the dean succeed (in fundraising).”
Committee Chairman Michael Wixom also supports purchasing a house in Las Vegas, but said he’s “very concerned” about raising the cap to $750,000.
“We’ve just come through an extraordinarily painful process of budget-cutting,” he said. “I am concerned about raising (the cap) beyond $400,000 because I’m afraid it’s going to send a message we don’t want to send.”
Regent Ron Knecht opposed the purchase.
“We’re in awful times, and they’re going to stay awful,” Knecht said. “I’m going to be voting no on this, not for any lack of support for Dr. Schwenk or the medical school or the idea that we should be increasing our presence in Las Vegas and Clark County … But I think it’s gotten to the point that this is the straw the breaks the camel’s back. It’s too much.”
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