Why Las Vegas loves Cleveland Clinic — and why the clinic may finally love it back

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It’s been a bizarre story of unrequited love: a sexy warm-weather city with a heckuva lot of sick people that has been spurned for nearly seven years by the tall, dark and handsome health-care system from a Midwestern steel town.

It looks like the two may finally get together.

Las Vegas could on Wednesday take the first of a several steps with Cleveland Clinic to build a destination health-care presence in that city. An agreement being considered by the Las Vegas City Council would embark the Clinic on a review of 8.9 acres of land to see whether the property is suitable for a health-care facility. There’s no specific plans, though city officials said it could include anything from a primary care center to a hotel (no casino) for out-of-town patients.

Las Vegas officials think there are scores of global medical tourists and hometown high rollers who would come specifically to a high-end health care center. And the hospital itself would be nestled next to a 2,000-seat performing arts center that’s home to Navada’s ballet troupe and the city’s philharmonic; a toney residential development; a jewelry retail and trade center, and a 1,000-room hotel and casino run by the Clinic’s Cleveland neighbor, Forest City.

Who wouldn’t want to move there?

Until recently, Cleveland Clinic has refused its suitor.Clinic officials on Monday would say only that they’re exploring their opportunities with this latest venture. Las Vegas officials said they’ve talked with the Clinic on and off since 2002 as they’ve tried to develop a 61-acre parcel referred to as either Union Park and Symphony Park. It lead to a formal offer in 2006.

When the Clinic first declined, Las Vegas also tried courting the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, too, said Bill Arent, the acting director in Las Vegas’ Office of Business Development. But those talks also faltered, and the city has largely spent its time trying to re-attract Cleveland Clinic, he said.

What finally brought the two sides together was the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which sits at a corner adjacent to the land now under consideration for expansion. Las Vegas businessman and philanthropist Larry Ruvo helped draw the Clinic to this highly specialized clinical center, designed by architect Frank Gehry, that will advance research, early detection and treatment of neurological diseases.

Since then, the process has “happened organically,” Arent said. Once the city approves the agreement in front of it, a final decision on whether to move ahead could happen by the end of November, according to paperwork on file with the city.

Nevada’s medical challenges are as large is its opportunities. Nationally, Nevada has one of the highest rates of uninsured adults and children, and is almost universally in the bottom among states for health-care access and personnel, including a lack of preventive care, regular doctor visits and number of hospital beds per capita, according to the 2009 Nevada Health Scorecard (pdf). Its lone area of medical expertise is oncology.

But Nevada is home to nine Fortune 500 companies — seven of which are in Las Vegas. The state is in the top 15 median incomes, according to the U.S. Census, and its massive gaming industry attracted 37.5 million visitors who spent a total of $42.8 billion, according to the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. There are about 1.8 million people in metropolitan Las Vegas.

Arent said the city thinks many of its gaming tourists could become medical tourists, too, drawn in by the opportunity to get a check  up and a Las Vegas weekend. Las Vegas may also be an ideal locale to expand the concept of executive physicals and health programs, which the Clinic currently offers in Cleveland and at some locations of the health resort Canyon Ranch.

“It’s hard to know exactly how broad that is until somebody does it,” Arent said.

And there may be another way Las Vegas sweetens the pot: The Las Vegas Review Journal reports the city may donate a large chunk of the property to the Clinic to get it move there.

Any Cleveland-Las Vegas marriage is a clash a cultures: the reserved Dr. Toby Cosgrove, CEO of Cleveland Clinic, gets to mingle with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former mob lawyer who during a press conference unveiling the Ruvo center told Cosgrove that he’d bet on everything — including two cockroaches racing across the floor.

But Cosgrove seems to be warming to Vegas. He’s returning to Sin City on Sept. 23 to be the inaugural speaker in the Symphony Park Lecture Series, where he’ll be introduced by Larry Ruvo, the founder of the brain center, at an event organized in part by the developer whose residential properties would abut the land the Clinic’s considering for development.

[Front-page photo courtesy of Flickr user matze_ott]

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Chris Seper

By Chris Seper MedCity News

Chris Seper runs MedCityNews.com and contributes regularly to the site. He is the vice president of healthcare for Breaking Media, MedCity's corporate owners. Reach him at [email protected]
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