$25 million gift to help KU Medical Center add health education building

05/20/2014 3:27 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

After a year of setbacks, the University of Kansas Medical Center is now poised to bring its educational facilities into the 21st century.

A gift of $25 million from the Hall Family Foundation, announced Tuesday, will make it possible for the medical center to go forward with construction of a long-sought $75 million education building on its Kansas City, Kan., campus.

The building, on what is now a parking lot on the northeast corner of Rainbow Boulevard and 39th Street, will increase the number of students the medical center can train. It also will provide updated facilities that are more in line with modern teaching methods that take students out of large lecture halls and place them in small problem-solving teams.

The medical center’s accreditation had been threatened by its outdated classrooms and lecture halls built in the 1970s.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said construction of the building wouldn’t have been possible without the “lead gift” from the Hall Family Foundation.

Fred Logan, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, called the building the regents’ No. 1 educational priority.

“You can’t thank the Hall Family Foundation enough,” Logan said.

KU pieced together funding for the project despite rough going in Topeka last year. KU had hoped to receive $30 million in state-issued bonds, as well as a windfall of about $26 million that the state received when the federal government refunded Social Security and Medicare taxes that medical schools nationwide had paid on stipends given to medical residents. Lawmakers balked, appropriating just $1 million to begin planning the facility.

But last month, the Kansas Legislature approved $25 million in bonds for construction.

In addition, KU will provide $15 million in funding. The remaining $10 million will be raised by the KU Endowment.

Before its financing was delayed, KU Medical Center officials had predicted that the building could be completed by early 2016. Instead, that will be when construction likely will start. It’s now slated to open to students in the fall of 2017.

That will still give the medical center time to meet accreditation standards. KU had expected to be cited for inadequate medical school facilities when accreditors visited the campus in October, said medical center executive vice chancellor Doug Girod. Instead, they decided to monitor the medical center and require a progress report in August 2015.

“We had the plan but no way to fund it,” Girod said. Now, the medical center also has the money.

The new building will consolidate education facilities for doctors, nurses and other health professionals that are scattered in old buildings across the campus and in a teaching building that is 38 years old. That building was designed when medical students spent much of their time passively absorbing information in lecture halls.

Modern medical education uses computers, simulation labs and small group discussions.

“You don’t sit in a classroom and listen to lectures for eight hours anymore,” Girod said.

Medical education is adopting the same kinds of techniques used by the airline industry, training people as teams so they work together, communicate better and avoid mistakes.

KU Medical Center already incorporates simulations that use sophisticated mannequins or trained actors substituting as patients. Medical students also get some of their training in small groups where they’re presented with a patient’s symptoms and must work together to figure out the diagnosis and treatment.

But the medical center has had to scavenge space for this kind of active learning, and it doesn’t have enough to accommodate its students.

The new building will allow the medical center to enroll about 25 additional medical students each year. The new facilities also will provide technical support to KU medical school campuses in Wichita and Salina, allowing them to increase enrollment by a similar number.

Overall enrollment at the three campuses will increase from about 211 incoming students per year to about 261 in the fall of 2017.

To reach Alan Bavley, call 816-234-4858 or send email to abavley@kcstar.com.

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