Critical Condition

Although she’d been waiting in University Medical Center’s emergency room for a friend for more than two hours June 1, Elsa Ramos had no complaints. “At least we can see a doctor,” she said. Her friend was very sick with something flu-ish, she said, and because he is uninsured, this was the best bet for care.

At the same time, on the other side of UMC’s campus, an 11-member advisory board met to try to get a grip on the ailing hospital’s finances—which are nightmarish. The volunteer advisory panel mulled over labyrinthine charts and varying insurance reimbursement rates and came up with comments like, “You need a translator to understand this” (board member Barbara Robinson) and “This is interesting as a kind of fiction” (board member Harry Hagerty).

What’s not fiction is that while the community wrangles with limited budgets for public services ranging from police to teachers, and leaders court private investments in everything from Ferris wheels to sports arenas, the County Commission has asked outgoing UMC CEO Kathy Silver to prepare a report on the consequences to Vegas should UMC close its doors.

Close its doors. The county’s only public hospital does about $250 million in uncompensated care every year, and gets about $70 million in subsidies from the county. Silver’s report is expected by the end of this month.

“Close it? No, that would be crazy. They can’t do that,” Ramos said. “You would just have sick people on the street. That would make the whole city sick.”

Maybe it already is.