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VOL. 6 | NO. 38 | Saturday, September 14, 2013

Prescription for Success

Memphis Medical Center leaders confident in district’s future

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

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It’s been nearly a decade since the Memphis medical community and city leaders teamed up to create a master plan for what they called the Memphis Medical Center.

The district – which follows the main corridors of Union and Madison avenues and extends from Danny Thomas Boulevard to Cleveland Street and from Peabody Avenue to the Interstate 240 loop – already was home to more than 40 organizations that specialized in everything from clinical care to research. But the Memphis Medical Center organizers wanted to improve safety and promote overall economic development, including commercial, retail and residential real estate.

While Memphis medical leaders say there is still plenty of work to be done, today cranes and construction sites are cropping up throughout the Memphis Medical Center at a rapid clip.

“If you just look out this window, you’ll see $200 million being spent right now,” Memphis Medical Center Director Beth Flanagan said from the organization’s headquarters on South Dudley Street as she ticked off a long list of projects in the works. “That’s just continuing – we don’t see a slowdown.”

Key to luring organizations to the Downtown medical center is The University of Tennessee Health Science Center and the large research enterprise tied to the school, said Steven Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

“The kinds of organizations that are going to be in a Downtown medical center – that are going to come and relocate to a research park – probably want some affiliation with that,” he said. “Anybody who comes to Memphis and is in the biomedical area is going to have one eye on the Downtown medical center, because that’s where the research is going on.”

UTHSC is in the midst of a five-year master plan that includes more than $200 million alone in both requested and fully funded capital expenditures over the next few years. That’s not including other long-term plans, including building a $200 million women’s and infant’s hospital adjacent to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital to serve expectant mothers from all over the Mid-South.

While some of the renovation plans are focused on modernizing older educational spaces, there are also plans to improve everything from community outreach and economic development to research infrastructure.

“One of our fundamental tenets is growing our research capabilities,” said Dr. Ken Brown, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer at UTHSC. “We need grade-A research space to recruit the kind of faculty that we need, to get private and institutional funding from the National Institutes of Health and to get other types of federal research grants.”

Key to those plans is a $50 million, 100,000-square-foot building under construction at the corner of Manassas Street and Union Avenue. The Translational Science Building is slated for completion at the end of the year and will be home to researchers working on multidisciplinary research that can be applied to clinical health care delivery in the Mid-South.

“They’ll be doing science research that you can take from the bench to the bedside,” Brown said. “We try to keep our primary research status local. We are not researching Australian fruit fly disease.”

Brown said researchers will focus on local health care concerns such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, women’s health issues, cancer, obesity and mental health. The new research space will allow teams of health care experts to tackle issues such as the impact of oral health on other health care conditions.

“The silo model doesn’t work anymore,” Brown said. “When you use a multidisciplinary approach, you have a much better chance of getting proposal funding.”

That facility will complement UTHSC’s already completed Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, one of only 13 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-funded labs in the nation. The lab is used to develop vaccines for infectious diseases that pose serious health threats and to investigate drug-resistant tuberculosis, tularemia, streptococci, cholera and other pathogens.

While many of the UTHSC’s plans are focused on adding and modernizing research infrastructure, Brown says the other core focus is updating the university’s educational spaces.

“The infrastructure at UTHSC is much older. So that’s one of our first and foremost concerns,” he said. “When we recruit students, they are looking at Wake Forest, they are looking at Duke and other high-end private educational spaces. We want to shore things up so we can continue to recruit the best and the brightest.”

Steven Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, says The University of Tennessee Health Science Center is key to the Medical Center’s future success. (Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

That includes recent updates to the General Education Building, including installing 100 station computer testing spaces and renovating student study spaces. UTHSC also has modernized some areas of a cluster of facilities dubbed the Madison Buildings, including relocating the College of Nursing, and overhauling the facilities that house the clinical departments of the College of Medicine, including surgery, psychiatry and dermatology.

Area medical organizations also have teamed up to promote more pedestrian-friendly streetscape improvements and more green spaces and to improve aesthetics throughout the district, said Flanagan.

“While the clinical might be at the top of the game, you want to make sure the overall campus holds up,” Flanagan said. “Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital is a great example. When you walk into that hospital with your child, it is so welcoming. We want everything in the district to look that nice.”

Sometimes that means getting health care organizations to band together to target blight and to demolish or find new uses for older, abandoned buildings sprinkled throughout the Memphis Medical Center, she said.

That’s also been a goal at UTHSC. The university recently received state-appropriated funding to demolish four older, unused structures: the Beale Building, the Randolph Building, the Feurt Pharmacy Research Building and the Goodman Dormitory, which no longer meets the needs of the school’s professional student population, Brown said.

The Fuert Building at 26 S. Dunlap St. is the future site of the $25 million Multi-Disciplinary Health Education Building, which is currently in its design phase and will eventually connect to the General Education Building. Brown said the facility will be used to train physicians, pharmacists and health professionals.

“You’ll be able to simulate patients and medical conditions, and they can repeat the scenario as many times as it takes – without the burden of exposing them to the real patient situation,” he said. “When you have someone’s life hanging in balance, you would rather replicate that in a simulation experience.”

The demolition of the Goodman Dormitory also opens up new possibilities to recruit local developers to build condominiums near campus, Brown said.

“Many of our professional students live on Mud Island and Downtown, but we’d much rather they live near campus,” he said. “By the time they come to us, they are professional students, so they don’t really want to live in a dormitory. They are very comfortable living in condos and apartments.”

Brown said some local developers have expressed an interest in building apartments in the region, which also builds on the university’s plans to continue encouraging economic development in the area, including luring new restaurants and entertainment.

“We hope we can be the nucleus around which we can develop a vibrant medical district,” he said. “Our hope is that it would develop into a community kind of atmosphere over the next few years, where employees at The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, Le Bonheur and throughout the area would enjoy the luxury of where they work.”

Construction also is underway at other organizations throughout the Memphis Medical Center.

Methodist University Hospital is expanding its emergency department. (Methodist University Hospital)

In July, Methodist University Hospital began construction on a $33.5 million expansion and renovation of its emergency department. The renovated emergency department will treat as many as 70,000 patients a year, up from 30,000 to 40,000. The project was approved by the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency last fall and is expected to be completed next summer.

Meanwhile, The MED has plans to overhaul much of its campus, beginning with the build-out of Turner Tower – one of the younger buildings on The MED campus. The $32.4 million project includes adding more acute and rehabilitation inpatient beds, renovating the critical care assessment area in the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center and expanding the burn center. The entire project is slated for completion in December.

There are also large capital infrastructure expenditures underway at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Southern College of Optometry, Southwest Tennessee Community College, UT/Baptist Research Park, and the Memphis VA Medical Center.

“You’ve got large clinical assets all around,” said Bares as he outlined the selling points for recruiting organizations that are considering relocating to the Memphis Medical Center. “This is where your workforce is being generated, and they are going to be watching this area as a proxy for whether they want to be here.”

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