Now affiliated, Renown Health-UNR Med leaders lay out next steps
They include IT integration, developing new chief academic officer role
Dr. Jake Keeperman, right, Executive Medical Director and intensivist for Renown Health, cares for a patient in the ICU with a member of the patient’s care team in this December 2020 photo.
Photo: Anicia Beckworth / Renown Health
EDITOR’S NOTE: Each quarter, the NNBW publishes a special “B2B Industry Focus” edition that centers on a certain industry. The fourth quarter’s B2B Industry Focus is on healthcare. This is the second in a five-part series of stories on that topic; the other parts are below. Look for the remaining stories later this week at nnbw.com, and look to the Wednesday, Oct. 20, print edition for the full lineup.
On Oct. 1, a major change took place inside Renown Health and the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine — a transformation hardly anyone could see on the surface. Underneath, the entities’ information technology systems were merging, with UNR Med’s clinical practice, University Health, being integrated into Renown’s clinical operations. With that, the state’s oldest medical school and Northern Nevada’s largest healthcare network were now sharing the same electronic medical records and scheduling platform. “It gives us the ability to schedule people at UNR’s clinics through Renown’s systems, which will make things a lot easier for people to access care,” Dr. Tony Slonim, CEO of Renown Health, said in a video interview with the NNBW. “We expect to see much more customer-friendly participation by people who access UNR clinics. Because there’s now integration, the quality will go up.” It was the first big step UNR Med and Renown have taken since they finalized a 50-year affiliation agreement in late June.
The landmark partnership deal promises to integrate UNR Med and Renown in an effort to increase teaching capacity and class sizes, expand clinical research programs, and bring the school in line with other medical schools with similar agreements, according to previous reports.
Dr. Tony Slonim, CEO of Renown Health
“While we’ve been partners since 1977, this provides a closer relationship between the (UNR) school of medicine and Renown to really co-develop programming and clinical care in research and in teaching programs,” Slonim said. “When you take those elements together, that is what is the definition for an academic approach to healthcare, which this community has not been able to see.” Dr. Melissa Piasecki, acting dean at UNR Med, said another initial step of the affiliation is hiring a new permanent dean to lead the school of medicine.
That person will also serve as the newly developed “chief academic officer” at Renown Health, said Piasecki, who in early September stepped in as acting dean at UNR Med following the August retirement of Dr. Tom Schwenk. Piasecki said she is working on developing the role of the chief academic officer. “This is a great opportunity for us to ensure that with the affiliation we are able to capture all of this opportunity by having the leadership at both institutions aligned fully by putting it into a single position around education and research,” Piasecki said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “This is going to be a really important part of the affiliation, long term.” Piasecki said there is no specific timeline for when the chief academic officer role will be developed and filled. She added that one of her goals is to help map out what the next 12 months of the partnership are going to look like.
Dr. Melissa Piasecki, acting dean at UNR Med
“I don’t have that quite finalized, but I have some broad plans for how we’re going to build and establish medical education infrastructure within Renown Health,” she said. “It’s a 50-year agreement, so we’re in the early days. And the next steps really are putting in the foundation, so that we can build this into a really stable role at Renown.” All the while, Renown is working with UNR Med on the strategic planning of its “destination health programs,” which includes cancer care, pediatrics, neuroscience care and cardiovascular care, Slonim said. When the Board of Regents met for two days in mid-June and ultimately voted 12-1 in favor of the affiliation, some regents raised concerns over the length of the partnership deal being a half-century. Slonim said Renown Health is making “significant investments” in UNR Med, and the organizations need the “time horizon to get things done and make sure we continue to integrate effectively over the long term.” “Without a 50-year deal,” he continued, “I would be hard-pressed to make those financial commitments, knowing that the school could turn around in a year or two and undo them. The kinds of things we are talking about are generational in nature, not annual or every other year.” Piasecki agreed. “Fifty years is a great timeline because it takes it out of any particular individual’s timeline,” she said. “This is going to cross over several generations. For me, this blueprint of the affiliation is really a ‘forever house.’ We’re building a structure that we’re going to live in forever. It’s not something for a phase or for a generation — this is something that’s going to be transformational to who the school of medicine is and to who Renown is.”
Leaders from Renown Health, the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents, University of Nevada, Reno and UNR Med converged for an affiliation agreement certificate signing on June 28, 2021. From left: Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D., dean, UNR Med; Laura Perkins, regent, Nevada System of Higher Education; Cathy McAdoo, chair-elect, Nevada System of Higher Education; Melody Rose, Ph.D., chancellor, Nevada System of Higher Education; Anthony D. Slonim, M.D., DrPH, FACHE, president and chief executive officer, Renown Health; Brian Sandoval, J.D., president, University of Nevada, Reno; Jim DeVolld, chair, Renown Health Board of Directors; and Joe Arrascada, regent, Nevada System of Higher Education. Photo: David Calvert / The Nevada Independent
As previously reported, the deal would allow Renown to terminate the agreement if the sum of state funding and student tuition money dropped by 20% or more in a single year. Under that scenario, a provision would give Renown a right of first offer to purchase UNR Medical School’s basic science and clinical research departments. “What that clause does is it is it addresses this one unlikely scenario where the school of medicine would not be able to fulfill its role in the affiliation agreement,” Piasecki said. “And in that unlikely scenario, it would allow the affiliation to continue by giving Renown a choice to step in and provide support so that we could continue this shared mission and vision.” Piasecki and Slonim both said the affiliation will also help tackle the physician shortages across the region. In 2019, Nevada ranked 45th in the U.S. for active physicians per 100,000 people, 48th for primary care physicians per 100,000 people, and 50th for general surgeons per 100,000 people, according to data published by the American Association of Medical Colleges. “Nevada is below where we’d like to be for pretty much every specialty,” Piasecki said. “And with the Renown affiliation, we can grow the residency programs, we can attract more physicians into our area, and we may be able to grow our medical school class size over time. So, long term, we can develop a strategy and a plan to create more physicians and healthcare providers in our pipeline to serve Northern Nevada.” Along with boosting the access to care for Northern Nevadans, Slonim said addressing the physician shortages would also boost the greater Reno-Sparks economy. “Doctors don’t make minimum wage, so every time you recruit a doctor to the community, there are financial benefits to the community,” Slonim said. Piasecki added that UNR Med’s partnership with Renown will also help the Northern Nevada business community continue to prosper and grow. “When people look at moving to an area, looking at a job opportunity, they look at what is the school system, what is the healthcare system, what are other parts of the lifestyle that they’re interested in,” Piasecki said. “And I think that the Renown integration with the school of medicine will really be very favorable to that environmental scan that folks are doing with regards to the Reno-Sparks area.”