The University Medical Center of Southern Nevada where President Donald Trump visited Wednesday in the aftermath of Sunday’s shooting massacre is a public nonprofit hospital that was rescued from difficult financial straits by the Affordable Care Act.
President Trump toured the hospital for two hours Wednesday while consoling patients and praising medical staff for their expertise. The hospital, located six miles north of where the shooting occurred, is home to the only Level 1 trauma center in Nevada and received 104 patients Sunday night. As a Level 1 trauma center, it is equipped to provide total care for the most serious injuries, such as gunshot wounds.
As of Wednesday evening, 60 patients were still at UMC and six remained in critical condition.
Facing financial woes in 2014, the hospital laid off hundreds of employees and closed four satellite campuses. UMC was relying on nearly $100 million annually in county subsidies to operate. The hospital's CEO, Mason VanHouweling, says the ACA helped the hospital return to the black.
"I'm happy to report over the last three years we have not had to take a subsidy,” VanHouweling said. "If it wasn't for the Affordable Care Act and the benefits and expansion of Medicaid, our operations today would be different. We’ve been able to stand on our own, reinvest, grow and expand services where our community needs it the most.”
VanHouweling added “many more lives could have been lost” Sunday if the hospital didn’t have available resources to prepare for large emergencies.
12 News requested a comment from White House staff Thursday about the role of the ACA in the UMC’s operations and public hospitals like it around the nation. As of Thursday evening, the White House did not respond.
Republicans have argued an alternative plan would allow states make decisions on their own how to best divert federal healthcare funds. However, those plans would cut Medicaid expansion provided by the ACA.
Rachelle Vanderstay of Los Angeles was standing in the parking lot of the hospital Wednesday after she met the president and first lady inside. When asked what she hoped the president would take from his visit, she mentioned Obamacare.
“I think it's important for the president to see public hospitals are needed and funding can't be cut," she said.
Asked to explain further, Vanderstay said her sister, 43 year-old Natalie Vanderstay, was shot in the stomach and leg during Sunday’s attack. Natalie, a registered nurse from Los Angeles, had undergone surgeries to remove a portion of her colon and intestines. She was expected to be released this weekend.
Rachelle described the hospital care her sister received as “amazing” and said hospital staff discussed with her how Obamacare had been crucial to sustaining operations.
UMC employees remain concerned about the future of Obamacare after the U.S. Senate twice narrowly failed to repeal Obamacare.
"Up until the last month, I was on the front line of that debate,” VanHouweling said. “Any rollback or changes in the Affordable Care Act that would certainly devastate our hospital and its status in the community."
As a report by the Las Vegas Sun explains, Obamacare, though struggling and flawed, has benefited Nevada in many ways. Medicaid expansion under the ACA brought 221,000 more Nevadans to receive Medicaid coverage. Three-quarters of them live in Clark County, where UMC is located. Nevada’s overall uninsured rate dropped from 19 percent in 2013 to 11 percent in 2015.
Asked whether he considered spending even a couple minutes explaining to President Trump in person on Wednesday how UMC benefited from Obamacare, VanHouweling said it wasn’t the appropriate time. He praised the president for the visit.
“He was here to console and lift the spirits of our patients and families,” VanHouweling said. “He spent more than two hours with us even though he was scheduled for one. He did a great job. He was the statesman during the entire visit."
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