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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published January 15 2013

North Dakota Legislature: UND administrators advocate for new $124 million medical school

BISMARCK – University of North Dakota leaders were hoping Tuesday to convince legislators that the most expensive option for expanding its medical school would be the best value for the state.

The UND representatives spoke to the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide details about Senate Bill 2003, the University System’s proposed budget, and highlight the need for a $124 million new medical facility rather than a $68 million expansion favored by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

“North Dakota is facing a major health care delivery challenge, where the health care needs of the people are exceeding the ability of the health care system to meet those needs,” UND President Robert Kelley said. “And the problem is only going to get worse ... we at UND are trying to do everything we can to help meet this challenge.”

An assessment that looked at the needs of the medical school provided three options, the first and second options would renovate the existing space and add some additional space at $38 million and $68 million, respectively.

Dave Molmen, CEO of Altru Health System in Grand Forks and chairman of the school’s Advisory Council, said a new building “would have a significant impact on the medical school and state,” he said.

The third option, supported unanimously by the 2012 interim Health Service Committee, would provide a brand new medical school at a total $124 million.

The new facility would allow for more students to attend UND’s medical school, consolidate programs to provide more more opportunities in other medical areas and provide $1 million in economic impact for the state annually from each additional physician employed in North Dakota, said Joshua Wynne, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

He added that a new building, paid for by the state, would make the university more viable for federal grants.

The other two options require more maintenance since they would use older existing buildings, he said.

Committee Chairman Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said a subcommittee will be formed to look at the University System’s budget.

The committee will be composed of Sens. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown; Robert Erbele, R-Lehr; Karen Kresbach, R-Minot, Larry Robinson, D-Valley City and Holmberg as its chairman.

The presentation the committee also tried to illustrate UND’s success in improving health care in the state but also the continued need for more health professionals.

The Healthcare Workforce Initiative, which was approved by the Legislature during the 2011 session, has also had deep effects in North Dakota, according to Wynne and Molmen.

Phase one of the program had three initiatives that have since been implemented: to reduce disease through a variety of approaches, expand the medical school health science and residency classes and expand provider workforce through greater retention.

“This past summer, the highest percentage ever of graduating residents entering practice chose to remain in North Dakota,” Wynne said. “Almost 80 percent of them are now practicing across the state.”

He emphasized four recent graduates practicing in Hettinger, “count ’em,” he said.

The needs for physicians in western North Dakota are great and UND can help meet them with the help of the committee, Wynne and Molmen both told the committee.

A UND residency program has also contributed to half of North Dakota primary care doctors and two-thirds of the family medicine physicians in North Dakota.

Matt Grimshaw, chief executive officer of Mercy Medical Center in Williston, provided a video response for the UND delegation about the effect the medical school has had on oil-impacted communities.

“We project over the next 10-to-20 years the needs to double the medical staff,” Grimshaw said. “Students trained in rural region are more likely to practice in rural region so the programs help create a new supply of workers.”

Wynne said estimates show a statewide shortfall of at least 260 to 360 physicians by 2025 if nothing further is done.

“The need is clear and pressing,” he said. “The workforce plan that is before you has been widely vetted and is strongly endorsed by almost all and the means are at hand. Please give the school and support its needs to fulfill its purpose to, “enhance the quality of life in North Dakota.”

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