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Making the Rounds with Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson
 Issue 188 - March 26, 2019
Friends and Colleagues

Unfortunately, it won’t be long before Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, who now serves as Mayor Pro Tem, has to leave her position. Yes, it’s term limit time for the ardent supporter of the medical school and the Las Vegas Medical District. First sworn into office representing Ward 1 in 2005, she was reelected in 2007, 2011 and 2015. The people in Ward I obviously knew what we know at the UNLV School of Medicine -- she gets things done. As you see more and more improvements and branding in the medical district, keep in mind that the councilwoman had much to do with it happening. Fortunately, Councilwoman Tarkanian will stay on the medical school’s community engagement board, where, thankfully, she’s never short of ideas to help the school move forward.
Barbara signature, first name only
Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian: Passionate About Building
Las Vegas Medical District
Most people know Lois Tarkanian as the longtime Las Vegas City Councilwoman and wife of the late, great, UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. But before entering public office, she enjoyed quite a career outside of politics.
At first blush, the fact that Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian was honored last year by Nevada Business Magazine with a Healthcare Heroes Award may have seemed, well, just a tad strange to some people. After all, the other 19 honorees were all directly associated with healthcare either through an ambulance service, nursing, dentistry, volunteerism, the practice of medicine or as medical directors, professors, and medical industry CEOs.

Yet, when you read the citation that accompanies the honor given to the 84-year-old councilwoman, who holds a doctorate in leadership and human behavior, it is clear that she’s been a catalyst for improving future healthcare in Southern Nevada. 

“Dr. Tarkanian was instrumental in the development and completion of the LVMD’s master plan,” the citation notes. ”Dr. Tarkanian’s vision for the area and persistence in moving the project forward has grown the LVMD, improving quality and access to healthcare...Today, the LVMD stretches across 684 acres in Las Vegas. By 2030, it is expected to have an economic impact of $2.42 billion, generate over 16,000 jobs and create state general fund revenues of over $121 million...From the beginning, Dr. Tarkanian has recognized that this project is collaborative and would need the Southern Nevada community’s help to come to fruition. Her efforts are paying off as the LVMD continually sees increased development and new stakeholders.” 

While the Las Vegas Medical District was established in 1997, little was done to enhance the area near downtown Las Vegas as a center of healthcare until the area became part of Councilwoman Tarkanian’s Ward I responsibility in 2012.

“Soon as it became part of my ward, I started branding the area with signage,” she recalled recently. “People laughed, but I thought it important. There’s a difference between talking about something and getting out and doing it. I began an advisory committee with representatives from UMC and Valley Hospital. The more I talked with doctors, the more I became aware we needed our own medical school. I started working with UNLV.”

Councilwoman Tarkanian is quick to point out that many people in and out of healthcare, along with public officials, have provided critical leadership to help make the LVMD and the medical school working realities. She says they are guided by a master plan that will bring together medical services and providers in a way that Southern Nevada has not yet experienced.

“Everything just started to blossom,” she said, noting that the LVMD creates an environment that supports future and continued development of businesses and property within the district. “When we first had a meeting of the advisory committee for the LVMD, just a couple people showed up. Now the whole room is full when we have a meeting.”

Today, the new UNLV School of Medicine is the cornerstone of the LVMD, joining anchor partners Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas, Desert Radiologists, Nevada System of Higher Education, Steinberg Diagnostic Imaging, UMC, UNLV School of Dental Medicine and Valley Hospital Medical Center. Valley Hospital and UMC are considering expansion and renovation programs. The Ruvo Center is also discussing expansion. While Steinberg has made its move to a new location in the medical district, construction on OptumCare Cancer Care Center’s 55,000 square foot flagship building is near completion.
“I don’t want people to have to leave Las Vegas to get the proper treatment,” she said. “I don’t want our doctors to think I’m criticizing them. I’m not. We just need more doctors, more specialists. People shouldn’t have to wait months for an appointment.”
In addition to health institutions, student and employee housing, recreation and fitness options, a library, more medical office buildings, a hotel with a conference center, a community center, a day care/preschool and more dining options are all being discussed for the district. The city of Las Vegas is considering offering breaks to businesses that choose to set up in LVMD.

“The city is doing all it can to help the district and the medical school with infrastructure,” Councilwoman Tarkanian said. “Wires have been buried underground, streets and sidewalks have been improved. There are aesthetic improvements on Wellness Way with palm trees. ..We’re putting in a garage for the medical school.”

As the LVMD grows, the councilwoman -- she has four children and 12 grandchildren -- becomes more excited.

“The Las Vegas Medical District is my passion,” she said. “I am thrilled to see a vision that I started talking about back when I first took office taking flight. Things are falling into place.”

She says her own battle with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body -- skin, joints, and/or organs -- has played a large role in her working to better healthcare in Southern Nevada.

During the 1980s, she went to see her mother in Fresno, CA. “She looked at me and said, ‘What’s happening to you? You have terrible blotches on your face.’”

Upon her return to Las Vegas, she went to a dermatologist and other doctors to find out what was wrong. There were also outbreaks on her legs and elbows. Soon, she was suffering from what felt like electrical shocks. No doctor could diagnose her condition. Finally, a Las Vegas physician, Dr. Elias Ghanem, sent her to the UCLA immunology clinic in Los Angeles. 

There, she was diagnosed with lupus. Over a period of several months, many different treatments were tried until a drug given to organ transplant patients worked to alleviate her symptoms. Though she would be in and out of hospitals for short stays during a four year period, the drug, which she still takes daily, keeps the autoimmune disease in check.  
“My husband was a great basketball coach (she was married for 53 years to the late Jerry Tarkanian, who led UNLV to the national championship in 1990) so I could afford to go see the best doctors. But I’ve always wondered what happens to people who can’t afford to go out of state. It’s not that we don’t have good doctors in Las Vegas. We do. We just don’t have enough specialists. I think the new UNLV School of Medicine will help change that.”

A stroke suffered by her 5-year-old grandson Jerry in 2015 -- the namesake grandchild of his grandfather is now doing well -- reinforced Councilwoman Tarkanian’s desire to improve healthcare in Southern Nevada. Again, the proper treatment was found at UCLA. 

“I don’t want people to have to leave Las Vegas to get the proper treatment,” she said. “I don’t want our doctors to think I’m criticizing them. I’m not. We just need more doctors, more specialists. People shouldn’t have to wait months for an appointment.”

Though she had a bout with uterine cancer in 2013 -- it was treated successfully in Las Vegas -- term limits mean she must soon give up the council seat she first won in 2005. 

If her past is indicative of the future, it’s doubtful that she’ll be able to sit back and rest. In California, when her husband coached there, she was a first grade teacher, speech pathologist, principal, central office administrator and California State University instructor. She also founded Oralingua, the first private day school for deaf children in California.

After her husband started coaching the Runnin’ Rebels in the 1970s, she initiated Nevada’s first full inclusion program for deaf children in the demonstration preschool at the Community College of Southern Nevada. She also served for 12 years as a member of the Clark County Board of School Trustees. 

“When I see something that needs to be done, that needs to be improved, I work very hard to get it done,” Tarkanian said. I think persistence is very important. Sometimes things don’t pan out right away, but you have to stay with it...I grew up on a farm where you worked every day, except Sunday morning to go to church, to get things done right. It’s just the way I am.
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The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans have some form of lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body -- skin, joints, and/or organs.

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