Academic Health Center optimistic despite financial challenges

Administrators outlined future priorities.

At the annual State of the Academic Health Center address, Dr. Frank Cerra , senior vice president for health sciences, outlined his goals for overcoming the financial obstacles facing the AHC in the coming year. Cerra addressed a standing-room-only auditorium Thursday afternoon and outlined six main goals for the AHC, including: âÄ¢ Meeting the schoolsâÄô mission of clinical enterprise âÄ¢ Expanding research corridors, such as the biosciences buildings and the expansion of the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research âÄ¢ Finding a new economic model to move away from dependence on state funding âÄ¢ Transitioning to a new learning environment, focusing on competency based assessment âÄ¢ Leveraging the strengths of the six schools to meet the stateâÄôs workforce needs and develop new knowledge âÄ¢ Improving the efficiency of operations within the AHC schools âÄúWe each create our own future,âÄù Cerra told faculty. Cerra emphasized that a new economic model is needed to ensure the future of the schools. About a third of the AHCâÄôs revenue comes from the University of Minnesota Physicians, and clinical revenues come from veterinary medicine and dental, while only 8 percent comes from tuition. Despite the gloomy financial outlook, Cerra remained optimistic that the AHC would remain strong moving forward. âÄúWe are a community of doers,âÄù he said. âÄúWe live with ambiguity and the question âÄòWhy?âÄôâÄù When the discussion opened for questions, many of the concerns voiced revolved around President Bob BruininksâÄô recent decision to combine CerraâÄôs current position with that of dean of the Medical School. Faculty, staff and students had the opportunity to submit questions online the week before the address. They also had the opportunity to submit a written question at the address or ask a question in person. None of the submitted questions addressed the recent controversies surrounding the Medical SchoolâÄôs conflict of interest policy. Cerra emphasized that he would not be trying to do the jobs of two people, but would be working to integrate aspects of his current position that overlap with those of the dean. One faculty member asked how the schools could improve their ranking while also shrinking in size, which Cerra said meant productivity would have to increase. After the speech, Jim Hart, assistant professor in the School of Public Health, said he is âÄúoverwhelmed by the gravityâÄù of the situation, but âÄúour whole health system has been shaking for a long time.âÄù Hart said he thinks Cerra has the right goals in place to guide the AHC moving forward. John Finnegan , dean of the School of Public Health, echoed HartâÄôs sentiments. âÄúWe have a lot of work to do,âÄù he said, adding that it seems to be the right agenda. âÄúI appreciate his strong support for the non-medical schools.âÄù The economic troubles pose a threat to some of the projects that were set in motion long before the current financial crisis, said Jeff Ogden , chief administrative officer in the School of Dentistry. The new dental health therapist program that is being developed, for example, will face some pressure as it moves closer to creation next fall, he said. The schools will all face difficult choices in the coming months, Ogden said, âÄúbut thatâÄôs true in good times, and in bad.âÄù — Emma L. Carew is a senior staff reporter.