Nevada Cancer Institute laying off staff, refining mission for future

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Jim and Heather Murren at the Nevada Cancer Institute's Rock for the Cure gala at The Mirage on Nov. 12, 2009.

The seven-year-old Nevada Cancer Institute has begun letting go up to 160 employees — about half of its staff — because of diminished revenue, an unavoidable financial adjustment which, its executives say, will lay the groundwork for a healthy future.

"We can be very proud of what we've accomplished so far," said Heather Murren, a longtime Wall Street financial analyst who, with her husband, Jim Murren, the chairman and chief executive of MGM Resorts International, founded the Nevada Cancer Institute. "The question now is, where do we go from here? We will distill to our essence and carry forward."

Jim Murren’s father and brother, who was a doctor and cancer researcher, were lost to cancer.

The Summerlin-based cancer treatment and research facility, which has treated about 15,000 patients since its 2005 opening, experienced a fall-off in federal grant money and individual donations as the recession deepened. Both were significant funding sources for the facility founded by spouses.

The facility has raised $240 million in philanthropic giving to date, peaking at $58.1 million in 2006, but donations have significantly declined amid the recession.

The personnel cuts will likely come to the center’s administrative, research, education and community outreach areas, Heather Murren said.

She said the center will retain doctors, nurses, technicians and related staff to continue the treatment of patients in various stages of the disease. Last month, the facility laid off 30 employees. "The emphasis is on maintaining staff that deals with patients and the research that is essential for those patients," she said.

“We have to sever half of the workforce to move forward and maintain the mission,” she said, noting that the organization has hired a restructuring expert to aid with the effort. “We need to make some very significant decisions at the Cancer Institute in light of the environment we’re operating in.”

The institute will continue its cancer care and treatment efforts but will discontinue clinical trials and research that are not funded by philanthropic giving. Other sources will be sought to continue that work, although Heather Murren and Board Chairman Michael Yackira said they were working to determine where to turn for money.

"By right-sizing the organization, we will be in a position to continue," Yackira said. "Our mission will be preserved and 10 years from now we'll look back at this as a difficult time. We will flourish."

The facility’s annual operating revenue had steadily grown to $26.5 million by 2009. Figures for the 2010 operating revenue were not available, said institute spokeswoman Hilarie Grey.

Last Friday, the departure of Dr. John Ruckdeschel was announced. He was the facility’s director and chief executive officer since 2009, and previously ran the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit and the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. Ruckedeschel was largely hired to help the facility gain comprehensive cancer institute status, significantly increasing its prestige and making it eligible for a wide range of federal grant money while luring world-class researchers.

Yackira, who is the president and chief executive officer of NV Energy, noted that the institute is seeking a chief executive who can aid with the restructuring effort.

The effort to join with a nationally known health-care provider could be limited by restrictions to the number of hospitals within Summerlin’s boundaries, Murren noted. The Nevada Cancer Institute currently treats people on an out-patient-only basis and is not considered a hospital. It also lacks the full-service pharmacy of a hospital.

In its early years, the Nevada Cancer Institute held lavish black-tie fundraisers that helped raise at least $240 million.

The Nevada Cancer Institute received $20 million in federal funds with the aid of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with $3.26 million coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money.

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  1. "The institute filed suit in 2009 seeking a $10 million donation promised by Southern Nevada home developer Jim Rhodes and his wife, Glynda."

    SHOW US THE MONEY, JIMBO!!!

  2. Between 1985 and 1991, I volunteered my airplane and piloting to fly Las Vegas cancer patients to the John Wayne Cancer Clinic at UCLA to participate in the clinical trial for Rituxan, then hoped to be the "Magic bullet" drug to cure cancer. At the time, Las Vegans seeking cancer treatment were told to go to McCarran Airport and book flights to UCLA, Scripts in San Diego, MD Anderson in Houston, or Sloan Kettering in New York. If they couldn't afford to leave town for treatment, they were in real trouble. It happens that Rituxan did work miracles and was approved for treatment in 1999. Fate would have it that in the Fall of 2005, I would be sitting in a lounge chair on the third floor of the then-newly opened Nevada Cancer Center overlooking Las Vegas with an IV in my arm receiving that same drug! I believe that had it not been for my "Angels" at NCI, I would have had to seek treatment elsewhere or suffer the consequences. I have been cancer free for over five years thanks to my Angels, and it is truly a sin that Las Vegas may be about to regress back to those days in the late eighties. God Bless the doctors and staff at NCI.