COLUMBIA — The idea of establishing a Mayor's Task Force on Medical Tourism in Columbia was gaining steam even before Mayor Brian Treece made his initial appointments to the group Wednesday morning.

“My phone is ringing off the hook from people who want to participate in this,” Treece said during a news conference at the Daniel Boone City Building where he revealed the first eight members of the task force.

Approved by the Columbia City Council on Aug. 15, the task force will be composed of Columbia professionals with experience in the medical, travel and tourism industries.

The task force, according to a city news release, will make recommendations on:

  • Marketing strategies for Columbia’s “key sub-specialty medicine areas.”
  • Airport improvements and new flight routes designed to improve patient access to health care.
  • Public transportation improvements, such as patient-accessible shuttles and vans.
  • Hotels and short-term housing options coordinated between hospital and hotel management.
  • Development strategies for new health-care jobs.

Treece touted the potential economic boost of medical tourism.

He cited the MU Research Reactor Center as an example of the medical resources Columbia can access. The reactor creates isotopes used to treat cancer, but their radioactivity causes strict limits on how many can be shipped aboard a single plane. Treece brought up the possibility of bringing patients to the isotopes, instead of the other way around.

The eight members are:

  • Guy Collier, an attorney specializing in nonprofit hospitals and health systems. Collier is a partner at McDermott, Will and Emery in Washington, D.C. He will chair the task force.
  • Jonathan Curtright, chief operating officer of MU Health Care.
  • Kate Pitzer, in-house legal counsel for Boone Hospital Center.
  • Vivek Puri, vice president and general counsel of Hilton Garden Inn and the Holiday Inn Express.
  • Gene Austin, chief executive officer of Columbia Orthopaedic Group.
  • David Parmely, owner of the Hampton Inn & Suites and The Broadway hotel.
  • James Cook, a former veterinary surgeon at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and director of operations for the Mizzou BioJoint Center.
  • Kevin Staveley O’Carroll, director of the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.

A member of the Columbia Convention and Visitors staff will act as a liaison to the task force.

Treece said he's not done making appointments. “A huge gap on this task force that I hope to fill before Tuesday is veterans’ care,” he said.

Curtright, who previously worked for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, touted the clinic's ability to market itself as a medical destination.

“Why do people come to Mayo? They come to Mayo because they built a better mousetrap,” he said.

He said giving people a medical destination will increase their quality of care . “The more you’re willing to travel, the more complex care you’re going to be receiving.”

Treece also sang the praises of the task force members and their willingness to volunteer on short notice.

“Everybody here got about a 48 hour ask: ‘Would you like to be on this panel? Can you be at a press conference at 10 Wednesday?’

"There was no hesitation," he said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

  • Assistant City Editor, foodie, political junkie and graduate student from Louisiana. You can reach me by phone at (318) 758-0799 or by email at

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