A long-delayed plan to build a College of Osteopathic Medicine in Jefferson was revived this month after the Jefferson County Board approved a “letter of intent” for a new site.
The planned $125 million college, which would be Wisconsin’s third medical school, was announced in 2014 and initially scheduled to open in fall 2018. Backers say it would help offset a predicted shortage of primary care doctors, but the state’s other medical schools say they’re addressing the need.
The osteopathic college was delayed after its two main organizers, former executives with the UW Foundation, were unable to get $25 million in state funding as hoped in any of the last three biennial state budgets, said Mark Lefebvre, one of the organizers.
In addition, 100 acres of land given to the college by the city of Jefferson near the city’s business park was deemed less visible than desired, Lefebvre said.
A new 75-acre site — on county-owned land on the city’s southwest side, near Highway 26 — will be sold to the college for about $750,000 if the organizers meet certain obligations in the coming years, according to the letter of intent approved Dec. 11.
One requirement is to secure half of the $125 million needed for the college by the end of 2019. Another is to open the college by 2022. The plan is to enroll 160 students a year, eventually educating more than 600 students at a time, Lefebvre said.
“We have robust conversations (going on) with leading funders well in excess of the money that we will need,” said Lefebvre, who declined to specify how much money has been secured. “We haven’t lost faith.”
Osteopathic doctors are like other doctors, but they often focus on disease prevention and sometimes do hands-on manipulations.
Leaders of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison and the Medical College of Wisconsin, based near Milwaukee, have opposed the plan for a third medical school.
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Their schools have been expanding, with the UW medical school adding rural and urban programs in the past decade and the medical college opening new campuses near Green Bay in 2015 and in Wausau in 2016.
Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the UW medical school, has said there aren’t enough Medicare-funded residency slots to train additional doctors after graduation.
Lefebvre, who helped raise money for UW medical facilities in his previous job at UW Foundation, said the expansions of the two medical schools have been helpful. But a report this year by the Wisconsin Council on Medical Education and Workforce predicted a shortage of 745 primary care doctors by 2035.
Many students leave Wisconsin to get medical degrees in other states and don’t return, Lefebvre said. The osteopathic college would keep more of them in the state, and upon graduation many would likely work in underserved rural and urban areas, he said.
“The shortage that exists cannot be met by these two schools,” said Lefebvre, who is organizing the osteopathic college with Jennifer DeKrey, who also worked at UW Foundation.
Lefebvre said private contributors could pay for additional residencies.
The new site in Jefferson is part of about 300 acres of farmland that could eventually become a medical campus, possibly with another facility to train other types of health care professionals, Lefebvre said.
He and DeKrey have applied for tax credits for the osteopathic college, and are pursuing accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association.