egents approve new vision for health center

[bold on]Justin Costley[bold off][fm][bold on][bold off][bold on][bold off]
Staff Reporter[fm]
Seeking to alleviate a widening funding gap, provide new educational and research opportunities and improve health care delivery, the University’s Academic Health Center proposed a new vision to the Board of Regents last Friday.
Approved unanimously, the success of the plan and its components will be largely dependent on increased funding from the state Legislature.
The new outlook is the result of a collaborative process between faculty members, a Regent sub-committee and Terry Bock, associate vice president for health sciences administration.
Work on the vision statement began in January and ended this month.
The next step will be to turn it into an operational work place to be made part of the University’s biennial legislative request next year.
Currently, much of the money needed for the AHC’s educational and research activities comes from clinical work done by physicians.
Only 9 percent of the medical school budget comes from the state.
Due to a variety of reasons – including the increased cost of health care, competition with HMOs and diminishing Medicare revenues – these funds are dwindling.
At the same time, the cost of providing quality education, research and health care delivery is on the rise.
Closing the gap between these forces is a major component of the AHC’s new vision and represents the attempt at a “new covenant” with the state government.
“That old relationship doesn’t work anymore,” said Martin Dworkin, professor of microbiology, and lead faculty member in the development process.
“The state and its population has got to step up to the plate and start supporting the AHC in a way it hasn’t. If that doesn’t happen then this is all an empty exercise,” Dworkin said.
Tied to the decline in revenues, the AHC has also seen a decline in prestige. Slipping in national rankings, it has also seen an 11 percent drop in research proposals and an 18 percent loss in tenured and tenure-track faculty.
With faculty members being forced to spend more time doing clinical work in order to pay the bills and less and less time doing research, Dworkin said the decrease in faculty is understandable.
“I suppose what they’ve said is – ‘What’s the point of being in academics, I might as well be in private practice,'” Dworkin said.
“One of the major goals is to protect the research time of physician-scientists. If somebody is obliged to spend 50, 60, 70 percent of his time in the clinic bringing in clinical revenue, then that simply is not going to happen.”
Funding from the outside sources would allow more time for research and would therefore increase the AHC’s opportunities to attract new faculty, students and research grants, Dworkin added.
The AHC’s plan also includes ways to improve existing educational methods.
This would include increasing the use of information technology, increasing clinical trials and preparing new health professionals for a changing Minnesota population.
“If that doesn’t happen in the Academic Health Centers,” Dworkin said, “It’s not going to happen anywhere.”
One of the goals for the next phase in the development of this multi-year plan will be to focus the vision into a workable plan that will allow these changes to be put into practice.
It will also hinge on deciding how much funding will be requested from the state.
Though the Legislature won’t see the plan until the 2001 legislative session, the Board of Regents and Gov. Jesse Ventura will see a copy of the work plan in the fall.
Bock said the funding gap has forced the AHC to dip into their reserves to pay for its educational mission.
“It’s sort of like paying your monthly apartment rent out of your savings account,” Bock said. “You can’t keep doing that.”
In the event the legislative funding is not enough to fill the gap, Bock added that not only will the AHC have to scrap many of the plans in the vision statement but they would have to prioritize current programs before financial realities forced cuts.
“We just won’t be able to continue the same kind of educational research programs,” Bock said.
Despite the problems, regents, administrators and faculty agree the AHC – only one of nine such collaborations of health science colleges in the nation – could be among the elite public university institutions in the country.
Regent Maureen Reed said the goals highlighted in the report were right on point with what is needed.
“If this vision is accomplished, if the strategic plan, if the work plan is carried out, I would expect that the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center would have undisputed national prominence,” Reed said. “Secondly, Minnesotans would say, our University of Minnesota AHC gives us what we need.”

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