By Mark Couch
(Jan. 18, 2017) - The University of Colorado School of Medicine is strong thanks to the faculty’s willingness to support one another and to the ongoing efforts to attract talented and productive colleagues to the Anschutz Medical Campus, said Dean John R. Reilly, Jr., MD, in his annual State of the School address on Jan. 18.
“I think the thing that distinguishes the faculty here and the chairs of the faculty here is their commitment to the common enterprise,” Reilly said. “And I think there are some very tangible examples. Everybody will tell you they are committed to the common enterprise. It’s kind of a God, mother, and apple pie kind of thing. But if you judge people by what they do or how they spend their money, I think you have tangible evidence here.”
Reilly cited the increased contribution to student scholarships and the investment in an endowed chair by the faculty practice plan as examples. Since Reilly became Dean in 2015, leaders in the University of Colorado Medicine practice plan have approved increasing the student scholarship fund from $350,000 to $750,000 and last year, the plan provided funding to endow the chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, the first of an expected series of investments in endowed chairs.
Another way the faculty support one another is to provide funding to support primary care providers and non-proceduralists.
“Bluntly put, when you have surgeons and radiation oncologists, orthopedists and neurosurgeons all willing to contribute their clinical income toward supporting primary care and non-proceduralists, it speaks a lot to the culture of the place,” Reilly said. “I can’t say I have a comprehensive inventory across the United States, but I think this is a pretty uncommon arrangement and speaks volumes to the importance of these things and the willingness to investment in them.”
Reilly also explained that the Academic Enrichment Fund (AEF) has been a primary source of strength for the School of Medicine. Since the 1980s, about 10 percent of the clinical collections by the practice plan have been transferred to the AEF and invested into the School.
Over the decades, about $423 million from the AEF has been used to “recruit chairs who have a vision to improve their departments, to invest in campuswide programs and cores and to participate in important recruits for which resources are needed.”
“I think when you look at our state funding and you look at this number, you can see that the economic engine that has built the research enterprise on this campus and is subsidizing the educational enterprise on this campus is the AEF and clinical practice of our faculty,” Reilly said.
During the past year, the School of Medicine continued to grow and adapt to the changing needs of students, patients, faculty and the community.
The faculty practice plan changed its name from University Physicians Inc. to University of Colorado Medicine and it has grown to an enterprise that generates roughly $700 million annually.
Departments have established new divisions: The Department of Medicine now has a Division of Hospital Medicine and the Department of Surgery established a Division of Vascular Surgery and a Division of Surgical Oncology.
The total number of faculty on the School of Medicine’s payroll increased by 255 and now totals 2,957. “We are attracting great talent from first-class institutions,” Reilly said. “And this is our most important asset. The buildings are great. The hospital and facilities are great, but it’s the faculty and staff who work here that differentiate us from everybody else. Our challenge, our goal and our privilege is to recruit outstanding faculty to join us here and to grow our own, to develop our students and trainees into the faculty of the future.”
The first group of medical students arrived at the Colorado Springs branch of the School of Medicine in spring 2016 and are participating in a longitudinal curriculum, which calls for students to participate in comprehensive care of patients over time.
The School’s faculty took care of an increasing number of patients who rely on Medicaid to pay medical bills. “In 2013 we took care of about 95,000 Medicaid patients on this campus,” Reilly said. “Last year, (we cared for) 165,000 Medicaid patients on this campus. About 50 percent of the clinical volume at Children’s Hospital Colorado is Medicaid. If you go to University of Colorado Hospital, across the street here, right now about 30 percent of those beds are occupied by Medicaid patients. So in a state where 20 percent of the population is now on Medicaid, we are certainly not only doing our share, but more than our share statistically in caring for this population.”
The increased number of patients indicates a growing recognition of the Anschutz Medical Campus as a primary destination for care.
“I used to say that we were the best-kept secret in Colorado and that a lot of people drove past us when they should be driving to us,” Reilly said. “I think the word is starting to get out.”
As the number of faculty, students and patients on campus has increased, the School now faces challenges posed by that growth. The need for space on campus for laboratories and offices for clinicians continues to offer a challenge, so efforts will continue to review the sue of existing research space use.
“We are making progress at reallocating our current research space but we need to do more,” Reilly said. “Our grant money is up…I think everybody in this building acknowledges that we are not at 100 percent utilization and before we get the Chancellor to open his checkbook, we need to do the responsible thing and utilize our space efficiently because the lead time for creating new space is measured in years, not in days. And we don’t want to wait that long to recruit the kind of talent we’re going after.”
Similarly, the need for clinical office space is growing, so School leaders are working with the Chancellor’s office to explore the programming of a new building that was discussed in his State of the Campus speech in November.
Reilly reported progress in relationships with the School’s clinical affiliates.
The School is partnering with University of Colorado Health on its clinically integrated network and is participating with the system in new facilities in Highlands Ranch, Broomfield and Cherry Creek. Also, the system updated its academic support from a five-year term to an automatically renewing evergreen agreement.
With Children’s Hospital Colorado, the School is also participating in a clinically integrated network and is working to improve research administration and credentialing. Also, Reilly said the School will have an important role in the Children’s hospital under construction in Colorado Springs and its expansion in Broomfield.
The School has been participating in regular leadership meetings with Denver Health and is participating in key searches, including a new chief executive officer. Under the leadership of acting CEO Bill Burman, MD, Denver Health is less unsettled than it was a year ago, Reilly said.
At Veterans Affairs, a new director, Sallie Houser-Hanfelder, has reported that construction of the agency’s new facility adjacent to campus is 84 percent complete and that some clinical programs are expected to move in this fall. “It is my fervent wish to stand up here next year and say they are 102 percent complete,” Reilly said.
National Jewish Health has ongoing research collaborations with our faculty and now has a position on its board held by the School of Medicine.
In 2017, the School is focused on the upcoming visit by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which accredits medical schools across the country, and on preparing for a changing clinical environment. The year ahead poses significant uncertainties, Reilly said, noting that we don’t know what will happen with Medicaid, Medicare, the National Institutes of Health, other key funding agencies and to the marketplace of payers.
As a result, Reilly said, the School will remain focused on what we do know: the nation cannot afford the rising cost trend of health care, the Colorado population continues to grow, we must demonstrate the value we provide to the community, the School needs to attract additional talented clinicians and scientists, diversity is an essential component of our strategy, and a respectful work environment with a diversity of ideas is our foundation.
“All big challenges, but good challenges.”