November 19, 2012

State funds requested again for UCR medical school

BY MARK MUCKENFUSS | The Press-Enterprise

The University of California Regents are not giving up.

Once again, as part of their budget proposal for next year, the regents have included a request for $15 million to support the UC Riverside School of Medicine. The budget plan came out of the regents’ meeting last week.
Supporters have hope that with the passage of Prop. 30 and California’s slowly improving economy, the funding pitch will get a better reception in Sacramento than in the past. The school is scheduled to open in fall 2013.

The same $15 million request was made two years ago.

When Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature removed the expenditure from the UC’s final budget, it essentially cost the medical school its accreditation. The Liaison Committee for Medical Education decided that the medical school, without the state funding, did not have enough money to sustain itself.
Brown turned down a request for money this year as well.

Meantime, UCR officials and supporters had raised enough in commitments from local government and private sources, along with the assurance of a loan from the UC Regents, to guarantee $10 million each year over the next 10 years. In October, the school received preliminary accreditation.

The state funding is still vital, according to the school’s dean, G. Richard Olds. Without that money, he said, UCR’s medical school cannot operate at full capacity.

Phyllis Guze, the school’s associate dean, said Sacramento should be more receptive this time around.

“What we’re hoping is that the governor and the legislators will support the funding now that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Guze said. “I’d like to tell you that we’re optimistic, but we’ve been optimistic for the last three years.”
Changes in the make-up of the Legislature also might help. While local Republican representatives have been supportive of the medical school, Guze said, they didn’t have a great deal of power when it came to negotiating.

“We had some Democrats who campaigned on getting the medical school going and then got elected,” Guze said. “This really makes it more of a non-partisan issue.”

One of those Democrats is newly elected state Sen. Richard Roth, of Riverside.

“This is my top priority,” Roth said of the medical school funding. “It was the primary reason I ran. I’m obviously going to work as hard as I can to secure the funding for that medical school.”

Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Riverside, has been an advocate for funding the medical school. He said the fact that Roth and Jose Medina were elected as Democratic assemblymen for the region could help the effort.
“Bi-partisanship is always a positive thing,” Nestande said. “What I will be doing is working with the newly elected members from our region to see how we can collaborate on this effort.”

At the University of California headquarters, Vice President Patrick Lenz, who is in charge of the budget, said another factor favors the new school.

The accreditation last month, Lenz said, “has cleared the path for the school of medicine taking students in the fall. I think this will be an incredibly effective argument that the state would be wise in approving (funding).

“This wasn’t a case where there wasn’t resounding support for the medical school,” he added. “It’s really been a wait on an ability to fund the school.”

That ability, he said, is better now than it has been in recent years.


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