Thursday, July 11, 2019 | 2 a.m.
A year after its opening and a few months after it was targeted in a political debate in the Nevada Legislature, Elite Medical Center — the closest hospital to the Las Vegas Strip — is looking toward 2021.
That’s the year that Elite will have to accept Medicare and Medicaid, although CEO Patty Holden, who said it could be much sooner, hopes to work with lawmakers to create different classes of hospitals in Nevada.
Less than a mile from Strip landmarks like the Bellagio and Paris Las Vegas, the hospital is working toward accepting Medicare and Medicaid, after state legislators earlier this year passed a law requiring essentially all hospitals in the state to accept the government programs.
Currently, Elite eats the bill for Medicare or Medicaid patients who come into the hospital with an emergency rather than go through the process of submitting the paperwork for reimbursement from the government programs.
“In no way are we saying we should be patted on the back because we eat that cost. This isn’t a donation. It’s just cheaper for us to eat it than to go through the government,” said Mike Draper, who lobbies for the hospital.
Elite’s business model is different from other, large-scale hospitals. Its proximity to the Strip means that most of its patients are tourists, and the hospital tries to get people in and out as quickly as possible — many are on vacation.
The hospital does not contract with any insurance providers, so any patient visits are out-of-network. State and federal law requires anyone coming into an emergency room to be stabilized and treated.
The hospital, which opened in July 2018 on Harmon Avenue near Koval Lane, has 21 in-patient beds. It touts itself as being somewhere between an urgent care and a full-service hospital. Elite has a full emergency room but does not offer surgeries or intensive care. It has 62 employees, with nine board-certified emergency room doctors.
Holden said that currently the hospital would stabilize patients in need of intensive care and then get them to a larger community facility.
“They come in, we stabilize them, we diagnose, treat and get them with local ambulances … right to the acute care at the other hospitals,” she said.
Draper said Elite Medical Center’s location was picked to cater to tourists, which he said other hospitals in the valley weren’t doing. “So, the location was picked particularly with the idea (that) we’ll fill a niche that is not being filled in Las Vegas,” Draper said.
Holden said that the majority of the patients who have come to Elite were between ages 19 and 50. In those age ranges, the hospital’s typical clientele would not generally qualify for Medicare.
Draper said the conversation around Elite’s business model — thus one of the reasons for this year’s new law — was rife with inaccuracies, a problem he sees as an offshoot from the hospital not doing enough outreach after its opening.
“I think that this legislation would have been a lot different if Patty would’ve been here, if when they opened the facility there would have been much more dialogue with the county commission, with the other hospitals and with some of the stated elected (officials) or with the HHS,” he said. “It’s almost like one of those where it’s the fear of the unknown.”
In the first hearing on proposed legislation this past session, Bill Welch, CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association, said that one of the main issues was that Medicare did not reimburse hospitals at cost. Thus if another hospital that didn’t accept Medicare opened, it could siphon paying patients away from the other hospitals and eat into their bottom line.
Elite Medical Center officials are already thinking about the next session in 2021, during which Draper says they hope to work on legislation creating different classifications of hospitals.
“There’s several states that have different categories of hospitals. We don’t,” he said. “To say that Elite should be held to the same standards as (University Medical Center, owned and operated by Clark County) is probably not fair, and likewise to say that Elite should get all the same privileges that UMC gets isn’t fair either.”
They have no plans, however, to tackle the Medicare-Medicaid requirements going forward, barring some unforeseen struggle down the line. They’re working toward the July 2021 date.
Draper said he thought confusion around what Elite was trying to do — be a faster, less locally oriented hospital — was due to this lack of communication.
“I think some of it was lost in that translation, and then you have legislators who have never been in this facility, weren’t familiar with what the facility was, implementing policy based on the best intention without understanding what they were doing or the ramifications of what it meant,” he said.