Longtime Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian is passionate about the burgeoning Las Vegas Medical District, the UNLV School of Medicine, and the future of medical care in Southern Nevada.
Tarkanian’s Ward 1 has encompassed the Las Vegas Medical District (LVMD) since 2012. She has pushed forward plans for the area that includes the UNLV School of Medicine, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas, Desert Radiologists, the Nevada System of Higher Education, Steinberg Diagnostic Imaging, UMC, the UNLV School of Dental Medicine, and Valley Hospital Medical Center. Valley and UMC are considering expansion and renovation programs. The Ruvo Center also is discussing expansion. While Steinberg has made its move to a new location in the medical district, construction on OptumCare Cancer Care Center’s 55,000-square-foot flagship building is near completion.
“Soon as it became part of my ward, I started branding the area with signage,” Tarkanian said of the LVMD, which had been in existence since 1997. “People laughed but I thought it important. There’s a difference between talking about something and getting out and doing it. I began an advisory committee with representatives from UMC and Valley Hospital. The more I talked with doctors, the more I became aware we needed our own medical school. I started working with UNLV.”
Tarkanian, who will not be eligible to run for re-election because of term limits, is quick to point out that many people in and out of health care, along with public officials, have provided critical leadership to help make the LVMD and the medical school working realities. She says they are guided by a master plan that will bring together medical services and providers in a way that Southern Nevada has not yet experienced.
Beginning to Bloom
“Everything just started to blossom,” she said, noting that the LVMD creates an environment that supports future and continued development of businesses and property within the district. “When we first had a meeting of the advisory committee for the LVMD, just a couple people showed up. Now the whole room is full when we have a meeting.”
“The Las Vegas Medical District is my passion,” she said. “I am thrilled to see a vision that I started talking about back when I first took office taking flight. Things are falling into place.”
In addition to health institutions, student and employee housing, recreation and fitness options, a library, more medical 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. The city of Las Vegas is considering offering breaks to businesses that choose to set up in LVMD.
“The city is doing all it can to help the district and the medical school with infrastructure,” Tarkanian said. “Wires have been buried underground, streets and sidewalks have been improved. There are aesthetic improvements on Wellness Way with palm trees. We’re putting in a garage for the medical school.”
Some of Tarkanian’s interest in quality medical care stems from difficult personal experiences.
She has battled lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body — skin, joints, or organs. She was diagnosed in the 1980s after Las Vegas physician Dr. Elias Ghanem sent her to the immunology clinic at UCLA. Today, medication keeps the disease in check. In 2013 she sought treatment in Las Vegas for uterine cancer and was successful in her fight against the disease.
A stroke suffered by her 5-year-old grandson, Jerry, in 2015 reinforced Tarkanian’s desire to improve health care in Southern Nevada. Again, the proper treatment was found at UCLA. Her grandson now is doing well.
“My husband was a great basketball coach (the late Runnin’ Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian who led the team to a national championship in 1990), so I could afford to go see the best doctors. But I’ve always wondered what happens to people who can’t afford to go out of state. It’s not that we don’t have good doctors in Las Vegas. We do. We just don’t have enough specialists. I think the new UNLV School of Medicine will help change that.”
Tarkanian’s work to improve the future of medicine in Southern Nevada has not gone unnoticed.
Last year she was honored by Nevada Business Magazine with a Healthcare Heroes Award. The citation read in part, “Dr. Tarkanian was instrumental in the development and completion of the LVMD’s master plan. ”Dr. Tarkanian’s vision for the area and persistence in moving the project forward has grown the LVMD, improving quality and access to healthcare. Today, the LVMD stretches across 684 acres in Las Vegas. By 2030, it is expected to have an economic impact of $2.42 billion, generate over 16,000 jobs and create state general fund revenues of over $121 million. From the beginning, Dr. Tarkanian has recognized that this project is collaborative and would need the Southern Nevada community’s help to come to fruition. Her efforts are paying off as the LVMD continually sees increased development and new stakeholders.”
“When I see something that needs to be done, that needs to be improved, I work very hard to get it done,” Tarkanian said. “I think persistence is very important. Sometimes things don’t pan out right away, but you have to stay with it. I grew up on a farm where you worked every day, except Sunday morning to go to church, to get things done right. It’s just the way I am.”
“I don’t want people to have to leave Las Vegas to get the proper treatment,” she said. “I don’t want our doctors to think I’m criticizing them. I’m not. We just need more doctors, more specialists. People shouldn’t have to wait months for an appointment.”