Elite Medical Center

A Hospital on Life Support

The Challenge

In early 2019, Elite Medical Center, a 22-bed acute care hospital, came under attack from southern Nevada’s major hospitals, the well-heeled hospital lobby, the Nevada Hospital Association and the well-established and powerful Culinary Union. Because of Elite’s progressive and innovative new business model, these longstanding organizations viewed Elite as a significant potential threat for its level of service and aggressive marketing to tourists. Elite reached out to Argentum Partners in mid-February, just as the media began to cover legislative bills had been introduced in the Clark County Commission and the Nevada legislature specifically aimed at eliminating Elite and its business model. Argentum initially began working with Elite, providing public affairs support during Nevada’s 2019 legislative session to help reshape public opinion. Over the next three months, the scope of services would expand to include lobbying efforts in Clark County and the state legislature and for a full public affairs campaign.

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Strategic Approach

With the 2019 legislative session underway, our team had to act quickly in order to secure and utilize media coverage to help direct community thought and legislative discussions. We immediately set meetings with key media outlets, Clark County Commissioners, officials at the Department of Health of Human Services and officials at the office of Medicaid and Medicare and pertinent legislators all of which would happen within two weeks of engaging Elite.

In order for our efforts to be successful, we had to accomplish several tasks. First, we had to garner positive media through one-on-one media tours of the facility and face time with Elite leadership. This would help direct public opinion and create an understanding of the facilities’ purpose and business model. Second, we had to provide community relations and establish a line of communication between Elite and business and community leaders in order to try to reshape the proposed county ordinance and support efforts at the legislature.

Results

From February through March, our team set up on-site tours and interviews with local media and distributed press materials to all stations that weren’t able to attend due to the legislative session. We also held meetings and tours with several Clark County Commissioners prior to a public hearing regarding the Elite ordinance and began preliminary conversations with leadership from other medical centers and individuals with the Nevada Hospital Association. All of our efforts were yielding positive responses as we were earning positive media and having open discussions with Clark County Commissioners on additional provisions to add to an ordinance without dramatically impacting the business model of Elite to not contract with insurers or CMS. Additionally, at the end of March, our strategy was gaining so much traction that we also became the contracted lobbyist for Elite hours before Assembly Bill 232, also known as the ‘Elite killer’ bill was to be heard for the first time.

For reference, AB 232 was created with one purpose – to ensure that certain hospitals in Nevada were participants in CMS, only excluding critical access or rural hospitals. This exclusion left one Nevada hospital, Elite Medical Center. With little information going into this hearing, our team set the stage for the remainder of the legislative session, asserting that this bill was created purely to put Elite out of business without any desire to understand the business model. Immediately following the hearing, our team created a binder that would be provided to all legislators, association heads and media in following meetings. The binder contained our original one sheet in addition to billing protocols at other facilities, statements of opposition and proposed amendments and some of the media we’d secured. This helped provide clarity and context on the issues at hand rather than allowing ancillary messages take center stage.

Through the remainder of the legislative session, our team held meetings with every legislator on the committees hearing AB 232, every Clark County Commissioner to discuss the ordinance, every major media outlet in Las Vegas, the director for the Department of Health and Human Services and CEOs at three major area hospitals and media. These meetings, in conjunction with our media relations, ensured an open dialogue about Elite Medical Center through the end of the 2019 legislative session.

 

Evaluation

Upon being retained by Elite and having preliminary conversations with industry leaders, we were told that Elite would be forced to close by the end of the legislative session either due to the ordinance imposed by the Clark County Commission or by the bills – particularly AB 232 – before the legislature. On May 7, 2019, the Clark County Commission voted to grandfather in Elite rather than force the facility to become certified with CMS. Our team considered this a major victory as the county determined that Elite’s operations were not only legal and above reproach but were also providing a much-needed service to the area. However, none of this would matter if AB 232 passed. On May 15, 2019, AB 232 was passed by the legislature with an amendment our team negotiated stating Elite would merely need to apply for CMS certification by July 1, 2021 rather than be certified by CMS in October 2019 as stated in the drafted legislation. The passage of this amendment not only allowed Elite to continue operations but provides our team an additional two years and a legislative session to continue to reshape public opinion and hold meetings to inform about Elite’s operations. Furthermore, since the close of the session, our team has held over 30 tours of the facility with media and elected officials and successfully hosted one-year BBQ for Elite which was attended by over 200 individuals including media, legislators and community leaders.

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