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Weldon Webb: High-level MU officials must make a decision if funding is not reinstated.
Weldon Webb: High-level MU officials must make a decision if funding is not reinstated.

State funding threatens MU clinical campus

Posted online
When officials launched the University of Missouri School of Medicine’s Springfield clinical campus last year, it was seen as an economic boon by stakeholders.

This year, the fate of the physician training program has been threatened despite proponents’ belief it’s a significant benefit to local and state health care systems and the area economy. The public-private partnership in the works for nearly a decade involves MU, CoxHealth, Mercy Hospital Springfield, Missouri State University and the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

Gov. Eric Greitens in January immediately withheld $4 million from the program and did not include the funding in his fiscal 2018 budget, said Weldon Webb, MU associate dean for Springfield clinical campus implementation. MU’s Springfield campus, along with planned expansion of class sizes in Columbia, carry $10 million in annual expenses.

“A 40 percent reduction to anybody’s budget is a pretty significant amount,” Webb said. “If it doesn’t get put back in, it will need to be a university decision on how it’s handled. It becomes a high-level decision.”

Through the program, third- and fourth-year MU medical students come to Springfield for hands-on experience and further education at the 1845 S. National Ave. facility, as well as on-site at CoxHealth and Mercy.

Eight third-year medical students currently are working their way through the local program, Webb said. With the expected May completion of MU’s new $42.5 million center for its clinical campus in Columbia, class sizes are projected to grow to 128 from 96. That means 64 students would be on-site in the Queen City by 2020, if the program continues as planned.

“We’re committed to finishing the education for the current students in the pipeline,” Webb said, noting beyond that, its fate is up in the air.

What’s at stake
The potential economic impact of the Springfield clinical campus is huge, said Dr. David Barbe, Mercy’s vice president of regional operations and president-elect of the American Medical Association board.

Citing an AMA study, Barbe said each Missouri physician generates an estimated economic impact of $1.5 million. That includes physician salaries and an average support staff of 10, as well as the purchase of supplies and equipment.

Should 64 students be admitted to the clinical campus – and stay in the Springfield area to practice – that equates to some $96 million in economic benefit by the AMA’s metrics.

“Giving them a look and feel for health care in Missouri increases their likelihood of returning to Springfield when they finish training,” Barbe said. “If we experience any cutbacks in the funding of this campus, that will directly reduce the number of physicians in our area in the years to come.

“That’s the top line and the bottom line.”

Mercy and CoxHealth do not help pay for the program, but they offer in-kind contributions, such as facilities and training physicians.

Where the health systems stand to lose, Barbe said, is in the number of physicians moving into the market. On the national scale, studies suggest 100,000 physicians will be needed over the next five to 10 years, he said, leaning on his experiences with the American Medical Association.

“That’s not likely to get any better without programs like this,” Barbe said. “We are fortunate right now in Springfield to have a robust medical community, but think how much better it could be with another couple hundred physicians.”

Hometown university MSU also doesn’t have a direct financial stake in MU’s Springfield clinical campus, but the impact would still be felt if funding continues to be withheld at the state level.

President Clif Smart said the Springfield university negotiated two deals with the clinical campus: one to provide information technology services and another allowing physicians in training at the school to use MSU’s campus facilities, including the Foster Recreation Center and Taylor Health and Wellness Center. MSU Chief Information Officer Jeff Morrissey said the IT contract is valued at $56,000.  

“We’re supportive of the clinical campus because we think it’s meaningful to produce additional physicians in Springfield who are likely to settle here and work here,” Smart said.

What’s being done
Springfield clinical campus stakeholders are hitting Jefferson City in an effort to protect its funding. Mercy’s Barbe said the health system has combined its lobbying efforts with MU, CoxHealth and MSU to present a united front to legislators.

Program expenses currently exist in a special funding package that’s vulnerable to cuts, Barbe said. He said efforts in Jefferson City involve asking lawmakers to consider moving funding for the program to the standard operating budget.

“We think it’s important that the legislature step up and do their part,” he said. “We can do our part clinically. The state needs to do its part financially.”

Beyond its direct and indirect stake in the MU and Missouri University of Science & Technology programs, Smart said core funding to higher education institutions is a top concern. In January, Greitens slashed $55.9 million from the funding formula for the state’s public colleges.

At the Feb. 21 Springfield City Council meeting, members voted to pass a resolution encouraging the General Assembly to support the MU clinical campus and UMKC pharmaceutical program.

While Springfield Mayor Pro Tem Ken McClure recognized the state budget is overburdened – Greitens has indicated some $700 million in additional cuts are needed to balance it – he said the programs are necessary.

“As we talk about revenue shortfalls, both at the state and certainly as we watch our own local sales tax revenues, one of the answers has to be: We grow the pie by having good-paying jobs that go into our tax base,” McClure said at the meeting. “If you can find the money, we believe that this will be both an economic development and a workforce development incentive for our city.”

Editor Eric Olson contributed.


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