UNLV med school: Only time will tell

Wealthy donors are tired of sending money north with meager benefits for Nevada

In the debate over a proposed public medical school in Las Vegas, some have questioned whether donors would support it. I am writing as the former director of Nevada giving for the Lincy Foundation. The foundation made several major grants to health care in Nevada, including to Nevada Heath Centers, St. Rose Hospitals, Nathan Adelson Hospice and Nevada Cancer Institute. Our gifts to NCI alone totaled about $60 million.

Donors, businesses and our community need a stand-alone medical school at UNLV. This is not a new conversation, and we have a dog in this fight.

Most of this funding occurred in the past 10 years, including a $5 million gift in 2008 to University of Nevada Health Sciences Foundation for a clinical simulation center. That gift proved crucial for the UNR medical school, also known as UNSOM, the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Things were not looking good in 2009, and the accreditation review of the school by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education issued a “warning of probation,” finding that “Educational space has long been deficient on the Las Vegas UNSOM campus” and that there was a “chronic ‘invisibility’ of UNSOM in the Las Vegas community.”

In its response, UNSOM highlighted its only new investment in years, which happened to be the Lincy Foundation gift.

Now, fast forward to a more current conversation: The Lincy Institute at UNLV (supported by a gift that the foundation made for $14 million) continues this investment by producing health policy research in Nevada. The Lincy Institute commissioned the recent study by Tripp Umbach, which found that by 2030, an independent medical school at UNLV could produce more than $1 billion in economic impact and add 8,000 jobs in the region. So regardless of our “need” for a medical school in the south, simply based on economics and return on investment, it could be a good idea.

Over the past month, the only retort to this data is that the south won’t support an independent medical school. Medical school Dean Thomas Schwenk said Las Vegas philanthropists are “confused” by the north-south divisions and are thus not contributing gifts to a Southern Nevada medical school.

As a major donor to health care in Nevada, the Lincy Foundation is the opposite of confused. We know precisely what UNR is selling, and we are not buying a second UNR medical school in Las Vegas. People are not interested in a second UNR campus of what Tripp Umbach found to be the least economically beneficial allopathic medical school in America.

Philanthropy is often determined by geography. For instance, several major gifts to the UNR medical school by the Pennington and Redfield foundations have required that their funds stay in Northern Nevada. The Lincy Foundation could have required a similar constraint on its gift to the clinical simulation center. Rather, to benefit all Nevadans, our gift allowed the Reno-based medical school use of the facility.

I believe Schwenk would find a pool of donors in Las Vegas if he were asking for gifts for a UNLV medical school and not simply a branch of the UNR medical school.

Either way, I think Southern Nevadans should consider waiting for someone who understands us before we open our checkbooks. Only time will tell.

Lindy Schumacher was director of Nevada giving for the Lincy Foundation. Currently, she is CEO of the Fulfillment Fund Las Vegas, a nonprofit organization that helps promising yet educationally underserved and economically disadvantaged students.

Tags: Opinion, Business