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Medical Schools

Prescription for Success

Creighton University is going long distances to expand its health sciences campus. The Jesuit university in Omaha is establishing a medical school at St. Joseph Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. It has set up a program to let occupational therapy students at the University of Alaska at Anchorage earn doctorates online and also grants a doctorate in pharmacy to distance-learning students.

The first medical students who will move to Phoenix for their final two years of clinical training have started classes at the Omaha campus. St. Joseph in Phoenix will graduate its first MDs in 2014.

Creighton’s School of Medicine has groundbreaking researchers. Robert Heaney, M.D., is recognized as one of the top 10 experts on the value of Vitamin D in disease prevention. Joan Lappe, Ph.D., did the research that linked use of Vitamin D to reducing cancer risk in women. Henry Lynch has traced genetic links to certain cancers.

Creighton’s Osteoporosis Research Center developed standards for osteoporosis screening, prevention and research and ear scientists are working on restoring hearing loss by tricking hair cells of the inner ear into regenerating the ability to change sound into electric signals.

Creighton Medical Laboratories is the first clinical lab worldwide to offer a new cancer testing method, SNP array karyotyping. The test has been used in research laboratories but Creighton researcher Jill Hagenkord is the first to validate the test in a clinical setting and make it available for routine use. The method, a spin on older genetic testing methods, can help doctors make more accurate diagnoses and tailor treatment based on the DNA profiles of each patient’s cancer.

Outside research grants brought Creighton health sciences $36 million in the fiscal year that ended in June 2009.

Creighton physicians also have clinics outside the university campus and teaching hospital.

Across town, the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) has established three more links with Chinese counterparts: an office at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, a joint center for lymphoma and leukemia research in Tianjin and a family-practice training center in Xian.

Chinese doctors from Tianjin and Xian have come to Omaha for study and training, and tissue samples from difficult cancer cases are shipped to university laboratories in Omaha for confirming diagnoses. The Beijing office will recruit Chinese students and faculty for collaborations and support Nebraska faculty and students who work and study in China.

UNMC earlier had established a partnership with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University medical school in China and another with Osmania Medical College in Hyderabad, India.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine along with its partner, The Nebraska Medical Center teaching hospital, have leading programs in cancer research and treatment as well as in solid organ transplants including liver, kidney and heart.

The university annually brings in more than $100 million in outside medical research grants. It has a for-profit arm that transfers research results into marketable products and services.

Two new hospitals and a major clinic opened in the Omaha area in 2010.

The Nebraska Medical Center, the hospital arm of the university, started Bellevue Medical Center, a 100-bed general hospital in fast-growing Sarpy County, just south of Omaha. Two years ago it launched its Cancer Center, an outpatient treatment and research center several miles from the medical school campus hospital.

Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, an independent organization that operates 10 clinics in the Omaha area, freed up space in its hospital building by moving its specialty pediatric clinic into an adjacent, new $55 million building.

Children’s is next door to Methodist Hospital, which opened its new Methodist Women’s Hospital in west Omaha about the same time the university’s new hospital went into service in Bellevue. Methodist Health System also owns a hospital in neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa, and a chain of clinics.

Alegent Health is the largest of the Omaha area health-care systems. It has eight hospitals including some in small cities outside the metropolitan area, 44 clinics, four quick-care offices and 1,300 physicians.

The only women’s hospital in the north central United States opened this year in Omaha.

Located 20 miles from downtown Omaha, Methodist Women’s Hospital and its adjacent Methodist Physicians Clinic Women’s Center offers a lengthy list of women’s health services, among them gynecology and specialized disciplines within that field, obstetrics and breastfeeding, lactation, fertility and sexual health services.

The 116-bed hospital has a 24-unit (all private rooms) neonatal intensive care unit, along with couch beds and private rooms for parents staying overnight with babies.

More specialties may come later. “Are we starting with cardiology? No,“ said Sue Korth, vice president and chief operating officer of Methodist Women’s Hospital. “But I’m not closing any doors on anything.“ Plastic surgery is a possibility, she said.

Cardiology remains at Methodist Hospital. There, the Methodist Health System operates a full hospital with a cancer center. Moving birthing, obstetrical and gynecological services from Methodist to Methodist Women’s frees up space at the main campus to expand cancer, cardiovascular and surgical services.

While men cannot use Methodist Women’s on an inpatient basis, outpatient clinics are open to them for services such as lab work and radiology. The emergency room is also open to men.

Until recently, Sue Korth’s office was in a construction trailer. She has nicer quarters now that Methodist Women’s Hospital has opened, but she seemed perfectly at home in the bare-bones trailer office.

A self-described hands-on person, Korth joined the Methodist Health System in 2007 and since then has spent her time watching over the details of building a hospital that directly affects medical operations and patients. She is vice president and chief operating officer of the new hospital.

Wearing a hard hat, she often prowled the building while it was under construction, seeking input from the people who would work in the hospital, from medical staff to maintenance crews, on the details of how things should be put together for efficiency, patient safety and other effects. Mockups of rooms were constructed and workers and potential patients were asked for their opinions. Korth interviewed women who had just given birth and their families, down to grandparents and aunts and uncles, for advice that helped guide construction.

A native of Humphrey, Neb., Korth’s first job in the medical field was as a nurse at Omaha hospitals. She now holds a doctorate in health care administration.

This has been a big year, building-wise, for the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The state’s largest medical college opened three new buildings on its Omaha campus in 2010: a new home for the College of Public Health, a major expansion of the College of Nursing and a geriatrics education and research division. Together the three total more than $40 million in investment.

The building boom didn’t end there. In 2012, a new eye institute building will open; it alone will cost $30 million. The new home for the ophthalmological sciences will have diagnostic clinics for patients, clinical research facilities and space for training eye specialists.

UNMC has been on a 21st century construction tear, much of it to attract world-class research scientists. In 2003 it opened a high-rise research building, Durham Research Center. In 2009 it added a companion tower, Durham Research Center II.

As in the past, much of the money for the current building boom came from private sources. The geriatrics building, named the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging, was built entirely with private funds. It is named for Home Instead Senior Care, an Omaha-based international non-medical home-care business founded by Paul and Lori Hogan.

Bill and Ruth Scott, who had made five previous major donations to UNMC, made gifts for the public health and nursing school buildings and provided money for a recently completed year-round plaza, including an ice rink, that is surrounded by the medical, nursing, pharmacy, public health and other schools housed in the new $52 million Michael F. Sorrell Center for Health Science Education. Named for a university physician, it was built to pull scattered academic programs into a common area. The Scotts were major contributors to the Sorrell Center, as well.

OneWorld Community Health Center is marking its 40th year in 2010 by doing more of what it has been doing those four decades—serving low-income residents of southeast Omaha.

Based in the historic Livestock Exchange Building once the center of the nation’s biggest livestock market, OneWorld has expanded beyond its traditional base in the neighborhoods of South Omaha. It now serves parts of Sarpy County and all of Cass County, where a clinic opened recently in Plattsmouth.

The heaviest concentration of OneWorld’s patients, 18,387 people in 2009, live in the old South Omaha stockyard neighborhoods. OneWorld provides medical, dental, behavioral, optometry, pharmacy, laboratory and other health services, as well as preventive programs such as education in better nutrition and physical exercise.

What OneWorld does in South Omaha and the Sarpy and Cass county suburbs, Charles Drew Health Center does in northeast Omaha. The services are much the same. Both are federally-qualified health centers and both receive federal, state and local government grants, as well as private donations.

The vast majority of Charles Drew patients, 12,896 people in 2009, live on incomes well below the poverty line; 50 percent of the center’s patient revenue comes from Medicaid. Besides its own clinics, the health center reaches out to two shelters where it served 1,834 homeless people in 2009.

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