Samaritan, WesternU break ground on health sciences campus

Jul 1,2009

Work is underway on a health sciences center and medical school in Lebanon, Ore.

More than 300 attended the groundbreaking that celebrated the unique partnership between Corvallis-based Samaritan Health Services (SHS), which is building the 55,000-square-foot medical school across from the hospital in Lebanon, and Pomona-based Western University of Health Sciences, which will operate the school. Exterior construction is expected to be completed in October, 2010, with WesternU ready to move in by March, 2011.

The medical school will be called COMP (College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific) Northwest, and will be the first new medical school to be built in Oregon in more than a century. Approximately 80 first-year medical students are scheduled to begin classes there in August 2011, followed by an additional 100 students for each of the subsequent three years.

As the health sciences center continues to develop, it will offer a variety of other health professions programs in addition to a hotel and conference center, retail complex and other support services.

At the June 23 groundbreaking, SHS President/CEO Larry Mullins noted the historic nature of the partnership between a health care provider and higher education institution, one in which no public support was required. He added, with a smile, that it would be welcomed nonetheless.

Mullins also said the jobs that will be created, and the physicians who will be trained at the new school “will serve our communities well.”

WesternU President Philip Pumerantz said SHS and WesternU complement each other well because both organizations share the same values and a caring approach to medicine.

“We are doing more than constructing a building,” he said. “This is a promise that we will educate physicians who will treat and care for thousands of patients. That’s the real job we’re doing.”

Benjamin Cohen, D.O., provost and chief operating officer at WesternU, said that a project like this can only happen with “big, bold leadership, and we are unusually blessed with great leaders.”

As part of his remarks, Clint Adams, D.O., dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, introduced Paula Crone, D.O., a Portland family physician who will lead the Lebanon school.

Lebanon Mayor Ken Toomb, City Council President Bob Elliott and City Manager John Hitt all praised the leadership of Samaritan and WesternU for making the project possible. The city supported the move by approving the establishment of an urban renewal district on the campus to help fund future growth and development.

“Five, 10, 20 years from now, we’ll all marvel at the economic impact this will have on Lebanon,” Hitt said.

In addition to osteopathic medicine, other programs under consideration for the campus include nursing, physical therapy, paramedic training and other health-related professions. The health campus project represents the next step in a growing partnership between SHS and WesternU. The two are currently collaborating on a program that places third- and fourth-year medical students in a series of clinical rotations with SHS-affiliated hospitals. SHS also began a residency program for physicians completing the final phase of their training in the disciplines of family practice, psychology and internal medicine. A total of 11 residents started the programs in June 2009.

“There is a strong link between where physicians do their training and where they end up practicing medicine, so we believe these steps will greatly strengthen our ability to recruit and retain outstanding physicians to the area,” Mullins said. “Most of the medical students here now are from the Pacific Northwest, and they have encouraged us to establish residency programs so they can stay in this area after medical school.”

Mullins said SHS will also continue to pursue medical education opportunities in partnership with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), Oregon State University (OSU) and other higher education institutions.

SHS currently offers educational experiences to more than 900 students annually at its various locations, including the
Health Career and Training Center at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital. The center provides classroom and laboratory space for a number of health occupations in conjunction with Linn-Benton Community College.

Approximately 2,400 students currently attend WesternU, which offers graduate programs in pharmacy, nursing, veterinary medicine and allied health professions in addition to osteopathic medicine. The university is opening four new programs in 2009: dentistry, optometry, podiatry and graduate biomedical sciences.