Quality & Safety
History of UMC
Serving Southern Nevada Since 1931
University Medical Center has been serving the health care needs of Southern Nevadans since 1931, when a dusty dirt road was the only way to reach the fledgling 20-bed hospital and its one doctor and nurse.
Back then, Las Vegas had a population of only 4,000, was a railroad watering stop and little else.Fans were the only means of combating the scorching summer heat.
Only a few hardy motorists used the poor road between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. There was no Boulder City, North Las Vegas or Henderson.
Hospital needs then were met by small Las Vegas Hospital which sufficed until 1931, when construction on Boulder Dam began and brought to the area the first of what would be an influx of more than 12,000 residents, creating a demand for more hospital facilities.
By 1931, Las Vegas had grown to 7,000 residents, and because of the effect of the Depression, many were unemployed. For every worker hired at the dam, it was estimated that four came looking for a job and either were refused employment or were unable to stand the rigors of work in Black Canyon.
New medical facilities, however, were urgently needed and in 1931, with the Nevada Legislature about to go into session, county commissioners passed a resolution asking for state permission to borrow construction funds.
The money was acquired and by July 1931, county patients could be moved to the new 20-bed Clark County Indigent Hospital on a dirt road west of the railroad tracks. Later the road would be paved and named West Charleston Boulevard.
By then, several ambulance trips were necessary each day between Las Vegas and the dam site. The temperature in Black Canyon was recorded at more than 140 degrees. There were many more cases of heat prostration than accidents. Even after the government built a hospital in Boulder City, it still was unable to handle all of the sick and injured from the dam.
For the first two years of its existence, the new county hospital operated with one doctor and one nurse, both on duty or on call 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
Construction on the dam was completed in 1935, although thousands of workers left Southern Nevada, many others stayed to make permanent homes in Las Vegas and Boulder City.
In 1938, a movement was started by labor unions to make the hospital a general one, so paying patients could also be admitted. In 1940, the hospital's first board of trustees was elected and its name changed to Clark County General Hospital.
Also that year, Dr. Hale Slavin was hired as county physician and obtained funds from the County Commission to install surgical facilities. The hospital now had a surgical wing, x-ray machine and an autoclave, making it possible for the hospital to do its own sterilizing for the first time.
By 1942, the hospital trustees decided a house physician was necessary and Dr. J.C. Cherry was hired for $150 a month. According to news reports, the hospital's roof leaked when it rained and pans were placed around to catch the water. Lights were strung along exposed pipes in the operating room, water came from the well, and a septic tank handled the sewage.
Demands on the hospital continued to out-distance available space.
In looking for solutions to the problem, Dr. Cherry appealed to the federal government for help. In 1943, he completed arrangements to transfer ownership of the facility to the Federal Works Administration, which in turn spent nearly $450,000 for new construction.
At the conclusion of World War II, the county bought the hospital from the Federal government for $182,000.
In the early days of the hospital, modern-day ambulances were undreamed of. The job of picking up the sick and injured and transporting them to the emergency department belonged to the local mortuaries.
Reaching the hospital, however, became a problem because it was located west of the railroad tracks and most of the population lived on the east side.
Dr. Cherry urged the state to build an underpass, which was opened on Feb.8, 1950, eliminating the problem created by the once-dangerous grade crossing.
In the early 1950's, in response to numerous requests from physicians and private citizens, the hospital was renamed Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital. With the name change, the hospital began to undertake a new mission - keeping up-to-date with the latest development in medical technology and treatment and expanding its services to meet the needs of a rapidly growing and diverse community.
Between the early 1950's and the late 1970's, expansion of the hospital progressed rapidly.
By the mid sixties, Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital had a new $1.6 million three-story circular wing and a $590,000 outpatient building. In 1968, the Lions Clubs of Clark County funded a burn care unit at the hospital.
In 1978, a six-story medical education center was built on the west end of the hospital campus. The $4.5 million project was funded by a federal grant.
Construction on a seven-story patient tower was completed in early 1979 with the addition of a new obstetrics unit and an enlarged burn care unit.
In February 1986, the hospital's name was changed to University Medical Center of Southern Nevada to better reflect its role as a teaching institution and a medical center offering complete care.
UMC is affiliated with the University of Nevada School of Medicine and serves as the state's major clinical campus. Through its affiliation with the School of Medicine, residency programs in internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, family practice, general surgery and pediatrics are offered at UMC.
Today, UMC is more than a hospital, it's a comprehensive medical center with a history of providing the public with complete quality care.
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