Bryant’s support, $10M grant give new life to medical school plans

This rendering shows a courtyard will separate the new education building from the current Verner S. Holmes Learning Resource Center.

Last spring turned bleak for supporters of an effort to get a new main education building built for the University of Mississippi Medical School in Jackson.

No bond issue would be coming from the Legislature to back the 151,000 square-foot construction project which the year before had received $4.5 million from legislators for preliminary planning and engineering work.

More recently, though, the outlook has brightened considerably. Gov. Phil Bryant has made the training of new physicians and other medical professionals a key part of his plan for establishing health care districts around the state. And the Mississippi Development Authority has earmarked $10 million in federal Community Development Block Grant money.

The governor’s support and $10 million in seed money allows Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice dean of the School of Medicine and associate chancellor for health affairs, to comfortably predict construction will start on the $63-million project in 2013.

Whether she is correct hinges on legislative approval of a $30-million educational bond. Woodward says she likes her chances, given Bryant’s backing and a $10-million head start received in recent weeks. “We are so excited about our support from the governor,” she said in an interview last week. “And we do think that will add momentum to our visits with the Legislature this year in a very positive way.”

Success gaining the support of lawmakers is expected to boost the private fundraising needed to pay the full $63-million cost of the project, according to Woodward.

The five-floor medical school building is the first phase in a three-building plan that also includes a research center on the west part of the campus situated between Woodrow Wilson and Lakeland Drive. A parking garage is the final phase of the three-phase project. Work on all three buildings should be under way in the next two years, Woodward said.

Separately, on the clinical side the medical center hopes to build an addition to the Children’s Hospital that would include operating rooms and radiology suites, she added.

The major goal of the medical school expansion is to increase enrollment to 165 to 175 students from the 130 or so it’s now enrolling. “We are poised to make that jump when we get our new medical school building,” Woodward said.

The university has been trying since 2004 to expand the size of incoming classes. That goal came after a national survey determined medical schools around the country needed to increase enrollment by 30 percent to keep pace with health care demands. As last in the nation in the number of physicians per-capita, the university projected that even growing enrollment by 30 percent annually, the state would remain last in physician numbers. “That’s when we started looking at an aggressive growth plan,” she said.

The medical school building is the first phase in a three-building plan that also includes a research center and parking garage.

The new building is the foundation of the aggressive growth plan, Woodward noted. “This really is an investment in health care in Mississippi. They (legislators) understand that our graduates go out and practice in small town Mississippi and what that means to the economy of small town Mississippi.”

She said Bryant’s support grows out of his concern for a state with a huge physician shortage and troubling rates of heart disease, diabetes and other ailments. “He’s looking at the overall picture of where we stand,” she said.

That overall picture shows as well the huge economic opportunities presented by an enhanced health-care sector, Woodward added.

Projections are that a physician setting up a practice in a small Mississippi town has a direct economic impact of $2 million annually, according to Woodward.

The medical college hopes to keep most of its graduates at home by limiting enrollment to Mississippi residents. It has a head-start on that task, Woodward said, noting the medical school is among the nation’s top 10 in retention of medical grads.

University officials hope to break ground in early 2013, starting with relocation of underground utilities. An extension of University Drive from Woodrow Wilson to Lakeland Drive must be completed before the Lakeland entrance to the college can be closed for construction of the main education building, according to Woodward.

Construction of the new main building is expected to take three years.

University officials are counting on significant private fundraising to support the project, though no decision has made on a contributions’ goal. Sara Merrick, the medical school’s newly hired chief development officer, will head the fundraising. She came to Jackson from the Hospital & Research Center Oakland in California.

Jack Mazurak, medical school spokesman, said the college is asking the state to fund the cost of the new building and “will look to private supporters to help equip it with technology that is state-of-the-art for the education of future physicians.”

Because of the timing of the construction project, the fundraising campaign will likely come to bear the latter part of the project, Mazurak said.

Building details for the future University of Mississippi School of Medicine include:

• Five stories

• 151,000 square feet

• Projected cost: $63 million

• Anticipated start of site preparation: Early 2013

• Anticipated completion: 2016

Planners situated the new building at the northeast side of the UMMC campus, near the current Lakeland Drive entrance. The schools of Health Related Professions, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Nursing and Graduate Studies will surround it.

As the centerpiece of the campus’s education district, the School of Medicine building would rise in front of the Verner S. Holmes Learning Resource Center, which houses the campus library, UMMC administrative and student-services offices.

In designing the building, architects promoted flexibility of how space can be used, technology and energy efficiency.

Crews are finishing the extension of University Drive from Woodrow Wilson to Lakeland Drive, a project that will provide a way to and from the new medical education building.

The five-story building would include two amphitheater-style tiered classrooms for lectures and grand rounds. They feature wide desktops, unlike current amphitheaters, that permit students to use laptops, texts and notebooks simultaneously. As well, wide spacing between tiers will students to swivel and work in groups.

A total of 18 smaller classrooms would feature movable furnishings so they can be arranged for lectures, small-group work, presentations, teamwork and discussions. Such active learning spaces are required in accreditation standards.

A clinical skills assessment center, where third-year students train with volunteers posing as patients, would be located on the building’s top floor. The current center, drastically short on space, is off campus in the Jackson Medical Mall and uses a hodgepodge of cast-off office furniture and fabric cubicle walls.

The fourth-floor would offer simulation labs where medical and other health professions students can learn techniques on software programs and computer-controlled interactive mannequins. Unlike some of the simulation lab’s current facilities which are cramped into a closet and basement storage area, new dedicated space would permit extended hours with key-card access so students can sharpen skills and practice techniques in their off hours.

Plans for the new building also include wet and dry laboratories, school administration offices, a café and a lounge.

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