MU medical program expansion to resume original plan for funding

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 | 6:09 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Now that voters have rejected Proposition B, a fundraising plan to expand the MU School of Medicine will go back to its roots.

Through a tax on tobacco, some of the revenue raised by Proposition B would have helped cover a $43 million price tag to create a clinical campus program in Springfield in partnership with the CoxHealth and Mercy health systems. The project also includes construction of a related medical education building at MU.

Now, representatives from the MU School of Medicine and the CoxHealth and Mercy health systems will re-emphasize an approach they've been using for the past two years: telling legislators and the public about the plans.

"We're basically going to continue where we left off," said Rich Gleba, director of communications for the School of Medicine. "The next step will be to continue with legislators beginning with the next legislative session. Once funding is secured, it will take two years for construction of the building in Columbia and to enroll our first class of students in the expanded program."

The building would cost $30 million, and the annual operating cost would be $10 million, Gleba said. The remaining $3 million would go to renovate facilities in Springfield to create education space.

The longterm point of the project is to increase the number of doctors in Missouri; one aspect of that is to increase the number of doctors in rural areas. Through this project, that would be done by increasing MU's medical class size by nearly 30 percent, up from 96 students per class to 128, according to documents presented to the UM Board of Curators in September.

This increase would address the shortage of physicians in Missouri, according to an economic impact study prepared by Thomas Johnson.

The program created in Springfield would be aimed at students who want to do their residencies and practice in rural areas of Missouri.

Les Hall, interim dean of the MU School of Medicine, said in a statement Wednesday that when the plan to increase medical student class size and create a clinical campus was designed, the intention was to seek other sources of private and public funding.

"We will continue to pursue funding for our plan to meet Missouri's need for more physicians," Hall said.

Talking up the project was the main way to try to acquire funding for it. When Proposition B came up, it provided another possible way to raise money, Gleba said. 

The proposition would have taxed $0.0365 per cigarette, 25 percent of the manufacturer's invoice price for roll-your-own tobacco and 15 percent for other tobacco products. Part of the revenue would have gone to public colleges and universities. 

Weldon Webb, associate dean of the MU School of Medicine, told the Missourian in September that the tax revenue would have covered a majority of the cost of expanding class size and starting the new clinical campus.

As it has for the past two years, the timeline for the project depends on when funding is available.

"While Proposition B provided a potential opportunity to expand at MU and create a clinical campus, it never relied on that passage entirely," Gleba said. "It was just one potential source of funding that presented itself. It will just take us longer to secure the funding." 

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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