Catalyst. That word, defined as an agent that provokes change, best describes how many think of the UNLV School of Medicine.
The recent release of an artist’s renderings of the school’s first permanent building — groundbreaking is scheduled early next year — made people think yet again of how the first allopathic medical school in Southern Nevada can transform health care, and more, in the region.
Noting the renderings were released in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Barbara Atkinson, the medical school’s founding dean who now serves as a special advisor for community relations and accreditation, pointed out that a new home for the medical school means not only that more physicians will be provided to deal with the everyday medical care that is currently lacking, but also to handle whatever major health care crisis is on the horizon.
“The change will be significant,” she said, stressing that the current classes of 60 students will eventually grow to 180 in the wake of construction of the building in the Las Vegas Medical District. “The pandemic shows how important it is to educate new doctors in the community, how important it is to expand the class size.”’
Dr. Robert Lang, the Lincy Endowed Chair in Urban Affairs at UNLV and executive director of both The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West research centers at the university, said the new medical building and its offshoots will do for research and health care what the new Allegiant Stadium is doing for the entertainment industry.
“They are the two most important buildings going up in Southern Nevada,” he said.
Staying in Las Vegas
A study done seven years ago by Brookings Mountain West and a consulting firm, Tripp Umbach, found that with a new medical school, people would be less apt to leave Las Vegas for medical care and the school would bring in about $1.2 billion a year to the economy after 15 years of startup. That study was used to justify the school, which opened in 2017 with a class of 60 students in temporary facilities still used on Shadow Lane near downtown.
It is because of philanthropic funding commitments totaling more than $150 million that construction on the new building is scheduled to begin in February on a nine-acre parcel at 625 Shadow. The funding, announced last November, largely comes from the Engelstad Foundation and The Lincy Foundation, with additional gifts from unnamed donors. The donors formed a donor development limited liability corporation called the Nevada Health and Bioscience Asset Corp. to manage how the funds are spent. Maureen Schafer, the corporation CEO who last month released the artistic renderings created by TSK Architects, said the donations made through the nonprofit corporation are a testament “to the donors' commitment to the community, UNLV, and enhancing academic medicine in Southern Nevada.”
There is no question Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak believes the method of funding of the medical school will serve as a catalyst.
In November when it was announced that private donors had come forward with funding commitments for the medical school, he observed, “This announcement marks a turning point in Nevada in creating a culture of philanthropy that will encourage other individuals and families to contribute to projects and causes that will have positive outcomes for our state.”
Schafer said architectural plans for the building soon will be submitted to the city of Las Vegas. While she said that initially the campus will have just one building, there is space to add more buildings as needed.
David Frommer, UNLV’s associate vice president of planning, construction and real estate, sees the new building as a cornerstone for supporting “the further development of the Las Vegas Medical District,” which already is home to University Medical Center, the UNLV School of Dental Medicine, the Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas, Valley Hospital Medical Center, Desert Radiologists, Steinberg Diagnostic Imaging, OptumCare Cancer Care Center, and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Valley Hospital and UMC are considering expansion and renovation programs. The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center is also discussing expansion.
By 2030, studies have shown that the Las Vegas Medical District, which now stretches across 684 acres, should generate more than 16,000 jobs and create state general fund revenues of more than $121 million.
The new medical school building, Frommer said, is “intended to serve as a benchmark for future academic, research, and other UNLV School of Medicine facilities.”
Las Vegas City Councilman Brian Knudsen, whose ward includes the Las Vegas Medical District, says the change coming to the sector will be more than just an increase in health institutions. Student and employee housing will be going up. Recreation and fitness options, a library, office buildings, a hotel with a conference center, a community center, a daycare/preschool, and more dining options all are being discussed for the district. Wires have been buried underground, streets and sidewalks are being improved, palm trees planted.
“It will be walkable, an amazing neighborhood,” he said.
To Duncan Lee, the board chair of the Nevada Community Foundation, the growth of the medical school that will be brought about by it having a permanent home, means above all that health care In Southern Nevada will benefit.
“We will be training doctors that take care of our residents here in Southern Nevada, “ he said. “That is something we can all be proud of, that’s important to all of us.”