UNLV School of Medicine rendering

The Las Vegas Medical District Continues to Carve Out its Place in the City

Changes abound, from the influence of UNLV School of Medicine to how Neon Project is restructuring the area

There was a time in her life when Lois Tarkanian, a Las Vegas City Councilwoman, was suffering from a mysterious illness. Southern Nevada didn’t have the resources to properly research and diagnose her symptoms, leaving her to seek medical care at UCLA. Years later, she knows that wouldn’t have happened if health care options had been better here, which is one of many reasons there have been increased efforts to create a Las Vegas Medical District.

“Having a medical district will elevate the quality of health care for the Valley,” says Scott Adams, the city manager for the City of Las Vegas. “It will also bring jobs and taxes, and that is going to be good for economic development.”

The shape of Las Vegas has been changing over the last few years, and that includes the developments happening in Downtown as the Las Vegas Medical District comes into its own. The district was established by the City of Las Vegas in 2002 as a way to bring health care and medical development to the Southwest. Health facilities from Valley Hospital Medical Center and University Medical Center to the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health operated within the district’s boundaries for years. Despite their presence, expanding the area was never a top priority. Adams says that changed after the recession hit Southern Nevada. Of all the industries that took a loss, medical and health care businesses remained strong.

Coming out of the recession, there was more of a discussion about growing the medical district because of the benefits it would have on diversifying the local economy. “That’s when an advisory council was formed and started working on a number of things,” Adams says. Since then, the Las Vegas Medical District adopted its master plan in December 2015. The city began pouring millions of dollars into development and marketing. More recently, Adams says, Project Neon and construction to the surrounding streets are contributing to restructuring the face of the district.

In the near future, Adams says, the city is looking at meeting the immediate needs of the growing area, such as constructing a parking garage within the district. “There are a lot of land issues we have to deal with,” he adds. “That’s why we have to grow the district vertically.”

When everything is said and done, Adams says, this will have a lasting impact on the area, whether it’s opening the door to medical tourism within the district or boosting the housing market. He adds that if the medical district is attracting talented health care professionals, they may want to live nearby.

Beyond the economic benefits, Southern Nevada has long lagged in health care. Adams says that in the past, the running joke was the best health care system is McCarran International Airport. Tarkanian can attest to that. “My story is the story of many people,” she says. It’s not just because of the lack of medical resources. “Southern Nevada needs more doctors,” says Paul Joncich, a spokesman with the School of Medicine. The creation of the UNLV School of Medicine, which is finishing up its first year, is hoping to offer a solution.

“We’ve gone from zero to operational in four years,” Adams says. “It’s almost unbelievable.”

Joncich says a building for the school will be constructed across from Valley Hospital. “Optimistically, it would be done in 2021,” he says. “Pragmatically, it will probably be 2022.” The timetable has been pushed back as the school continues to raise money for the facility. For now, the Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas off Shadow Lane serves as a place where students learn and practice (the center has been used by UNLV and Nevada State College nursing students for years).

Tarkanian says that while the school will train future doctors who would potentially stay in the area, the district itself could attract more medical professionals and talent here. “There are specialties we don’t have in Las Vegas that we could attract, like immunology,” she adds. “The point would be that we would have [all the specialists] here and you wouldn’t need to travel to find them.”

Tarkanian even envisions a day when the medical district hosts physicians on the forefront of the latest advancements in the field. It won’t happen overnight, but one day. “We started a little behind,” she says. “But we are catching up as best as we can.”