Plans for a new medical school in the Inland Empire have been largely met with praise from local officials eager for more doctors in the region. However, there is some uncertainty about the ambitious timeline for opening the new school.
Dev GnanaDev — former president of the California Medical Association and founder, president and CEO of the proposed California University of Science and Medicine’s College of Medicine — said the school could open as early as 2016. Commonly referred to as Cal Med, the school’s first class would have 50 medical students and would later grow to 150.
“It is ambitious, but it certainly could be successful,” said Phyllis Guze, senior executive dean of UC-Riverside’s School of Medicine. UC-Riverside opened its medical school in 2013 and Guze helped spearhead the medical school’s accreditation process.
Cal Med will be a private, not-for-profit, allopathic school, meaning that it will train medical doctors. In addition, organizers hope to launch a new research university affiliated with the medical school.
According to GnanaDev, Cal Med will be the second medical school in the nation to be founded as an independent school without a major university affiliation. The other school is Commonwealth Medical College in Pennsylvania which received accreditation in 2008. GnanaDev said he has been seeking advice from Commonwealth Medical College.
Cal Med will be the third not-for-profit medical school in the Inland Empire. The other two are the Loma Linda University School of Medicine and the UC-Riverside School of Medicine.
Getting Up and Running
To open by 2016, the school’s organizers must clear a number of hurdles.
Accreditation: The school must receive accreditation from both the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).
LCME has strict requirements for funding levels, faculty expertise, curriculum content and student support services, according to Christiane Mitchell, director of federal affairs for the Association of American Medical Colleges. A medical school must demonstrate that it has a minimum of 10 years of secure funding.
LCME accreditation, which includes assessment of financial viability, can take 18 to 24 months or longer, Guze said. For UC-Riverside, it took five years to receive LCME accreditation for its medical school. UC-Riverside also had to raise more than $100 million in funding. State legislation has pledged an additional $15 million per year for UC-Riverside.
Funding: “It certainly costs a lot of money to run a medical school,” Mitchell said, adding, “Tuition does not cover the cost of running a medical school.”
“Understand that before you even open the school, you need to have dollars,” Guze said. “You need to hire a core faculty, a founding dean, and associate deans. You need to be sure you have your curriculum developed.”
GnanaDev estimates the total price tag to get the school up and running will approach $60 million. Prime Healthcare Services Foundation has pledged $40 million and GnanaDev plans to raise the remainder from other donors.
Construction: The school has offered to buy a parcel of land from the city of Colton and GnanaDev is negotiating with three real estate management companies. He said he has a couple of architects in mind for the project.
Residency programs: GnanaDev also is in discussions with three local hospitals to establish residency programs. The school plans to affiliate with Cal State-San Bernardino for a biomedical program much in the same way that UC-Riverside partnered with UCLA. A national search is underway for the dean of the new school.
GnanaDev acknowledged that much will need to be accomplished by 2016, but stressed that support for the medical school is widespread and includes the business community, the city of Colton, San Bernardino County, Cal State-San Bernardino and the hospital industry.
“My goal is teamwork,” he said. “It takes an entire village to make something like this happen.”
“I’m not saying it will be smooth sailing straight through,” GnanaDev said. “We will get it done.”
He added that the school opening could be pushed back until 2017, but he wants to avoid missing deadlines because that could delay the opening even further.
Fulfilling Need for More Providers
Asked whether there is a concern that Cal Med would compete with UC-Riverside for students, Guze said she didn’t think it would be an issue because UC-Riverside received approximately 5,600 applications for 50 medical school slots this year.
She also cited the importance of alleviating the region’s doctor shortage.
“From our perspective, opening a new medical school will increase the potential for new physicians,” Guze said. “The two things that impact where a physician will practice are where they are from and where they finish their training. So if you find your students end up going to Maine or New Hampshire for their residency, there is a much greater chance they will end up there rather than coming back to inland California.”
“The challenge is that we have all of these baby boomers turning 65 years old in record numbers,” Mitchell said. “That’s why we see the enormous growth in the need for physicians.”
The Association of American Medical Colleges has called for increased enrollment at medical schools to alleviate the national doctor shortage. Medical colleges across the nation agreed to a goal to expand enrollment by 30% by 2017.
Although medical school training is increasing, there is some question about where new graduates will serve residencies. The federal government capped federally funded medical residencies in 1997 as part of the Balanced Budget Act. An attempt to get the cap lifted in Congress stalled last year.
Support for School
Cal Med will be governed by a four-person board of directors:
- Prem Reddy, president and CEO of Prime Healthcare Services;
- Dustin Corcoran, chief executive officer of the California Medical Association; and
- Albert Karnig, Cal State-San Bernardino’s president emeritus.
Prime Healthcare Services Foundation, a not-for-profit founded by Reddy in 2006, has pledged $40 million to the medical school. The foundation, which owns and operates five not-for-profit hospitals in California and Texas, is a 501c(3) organization with about $100 million assets. The foundation’s hospitals were donated by Prime Healthcare Services when the foundation was formed.
Prime Healthcare Services, a for-profit corporation based in Ontario, San Bernardino County, owns or operates 25 acute care hospitals in six states, including California. Prime Healthcare Services has been embroiled in a number of scandals in recent years, the most recent being a federal investigation into Medicare billing.
Asked whether he had any reservations about the association with Prime Healthcare, GnanaDev said, “Absolutely none because the money is coming from Prime Foundation. I don’t have an ounce of doubt in my mind.”
GnanaDev stressed that the medical school will not only help alleviate the physician shortage, but will economically benefit the region.
“My goal is to create a highly educated workforce in this region and add value to this community,” he said.