House finance bill

Erin Ghere

Although University officials are generally pleased with the financial support from the state House of Representatives, funding for the Academic Health Center has still fallen drastically short of their expectations.
“We’re disappointed,” said Dr. Robert Howe, associate dean of the Medical School. “We had hoped to fare better, particularly with the tobacco money and the endowment.”
The House passed its version of the higher education finance bill Friday. They allocated $6 million for health professional education — $31 million less than what the University requested. The Senate’s version of the bill is still being created.
In the budget recommendation Gov. Jesse Ventura gave state legislators earlier this year, he suggested creating a $350 million endowment for health professional education. The interest the endowment would generate — $37 million over the next two years — would fund the Academic Health Center.
The money for the endowment would be derived from funds from the state’s tobacco settlement.
But Howe said the funding would have let the Legislature “off the hook” for funding requests from the Medical School in the coming years. He said it also would have given security to the health center.
Without the funding, the productivity of the health center will wane, Howe said.
“The Medicare support for residents began declining last year and will continue to do so,” he said. The support gives hospitals in the area the ability to pay medical students during their residencies.
The health center has already cut its budget and stretched its resources as far as they will go, said health center director Christine Roberts.
She said the center has begun paying for some programs out of University reserve funds, has cut the number of faculty members, and has reduced the size of the Medical School classes and the number of residencies available to students.
“We can’t do it any longer,” she said emphatically. “The reserves are going to run out and we can’t constrict any more.”
And because Medical School faculty members’ salaries have stayed steady as a result of managed care, school faculty members have to spend 25 percent more time doing clinical work to earn the same salary.
This creates an environment with less research and fewer teaching hours.
Because of the decrease in research, the University is less eligible for National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health research grants; outside sources of funding like these options are needed at the Medical School, Howe emphasized.
“We desperately needed the money from the state to right us again,” he said.
Howe said U.S. News and World Report polls show that the University Medical School is losing its ability to compete for grant money and is slipping in national medical school rankings.
Roberts said the Medical School can’t serve Minnesota as well without the funding.
The Senate’s higher education finance bill is still in committee and is scheduled for release Wednesday. In general, the Senate has been more supportive of the governor’s endowment than the House.
“We’re hopeful for the (House and Senate) conference committees,” Howe said.
He said University President Mark Yudof and Ventura have been working hard and that Yudof has the University’s “best interests at heart.”