To any doubters of the proposed medical school in Idaho, Gov. Butch Otter has this to say: “You were wrong, we were right, and I’m glad with stuck with it.”
Otter spoke at a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, or ICOM.
The private, for-profit college — the first medical school in Idaho — is slated to open in Meridian in August 2018, pending accreditation.
The college is a big win for Meridian and the state, Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd said, because Idaho students won’t have to leave the state to become doctors. Idaho ranks 50th nationwide in terms of family doctors per capita.
“We’ve been an exporter of our talent — of our kids — and as they leave the state to get a medical education, it is hard to get them back,” De Weerd said.
An estimated $125 million of private investment is going toward ICOM. The Burrell Group from New Mexico is the main investor in ICOM, along with Rice Management Group.
The Burrell family also invested in the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine that opened in New Mexico last summer. That project sparked interest in building a medical school in the Mountain West, which faces similar doctor shortages and lack of medical schools, said Daniel Burrell, Burrell Group chairman and CEO and the founder and trustee of ICOM.
“We never started the school there with the idea of doing another one,” Burrell said. “It just sort of organically evolved out of relationships that we had in this region and their interest, frankly, in how we accomplished what we did at New Mexico State.”
No tax dollars are being used to build the school, according to ICOM founding dean and Chief Academic Officer Robert Hasty.
The state of Idaho, however, has approved a $3.85 million tax reimbursement incentive for the project. The school will put all of that money into student scholarships, Hasty said.
The tax incentive is one reason the Burrell Group chose Idaho over Montana, which was the original proposed location for the medical school, Burrell said.
Another factor was the available medical infrastructure in Idaho, he said, including the Idaho State University Meridian Health Science Center, which is adjacent to ICOM’s future 94,000-square-foot, $34 million facility.
“There’s a concentration of medical infrastructure here,” Burrell said.
Otter and other leaders’ efforts to bring the school to Idaho were also influential, he said.
When Otter heard of investors’ interest in building a medical school in Montana, he said Idaho could secure a deal in 30 days.
“I was wrong, I apologize,” he quipped. “We did it in 28.”
NEXT STEP: RESIDENCY PROGRAMS
Thought Idaho doesn’t have a medical school, the state buys 50 medical school seats each year through institutions in Washington and Utah.
ICOM would potentially add another 150 graduates to that, starting in 2020.
Some physicians in Idaho have expressed concern that an influx of medical students and graduates would overwhelm an already strained health care system. Students and graduates aren’t just trained at the medical school — they must also work with health care professionals in hospitals, clinics and residency programs.
Idaho has 42 openings in residency programs each year, which is the second lowest per capita in the country.
Burrell said he doesn’t think a lack of residency positions will be an issue. ICOM is offering $5 million over 10 years as seed money for new residency positions in the five-state region, with a goal of keeping graduates and new doctors in the region, he said.
Around the country, more than 99 percent of osteopathic graduates are placed in a residency program, Burrell said.
“We don’t see a scenario right now where there’d be any issue with placing our students,” he said.
ICOM has been a catalyst for growth of graduate medical education in the region, Hasty said. Idaho State University, Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and Benefis Health Systems in Great Falls, Montana, he said, are seeking to grow their residency programs.