UI-Carle idea gets backing from lawmakers

Area legislators have endorsed the idea of a new college of medicine in Urbana run jointly by the University of Illinois and Carle Health System.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, sent a letter Tuesday to UI President Bob Easter, saying the venture proposed by consultants last month is an "incredible opportunity" that could be "an economic boon to the region."

The letter also was signed by state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and state Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana; Bill Mitchell, R-Decatur; Adam Brown, R-Champaign; and Chad Hays, R-Catlin.

Moreover, Rose said, the country faces a critical shortage of physicians.

"I recognize that conceptually we are only in the infant stages of this project and that many questions remain, but I believe very strongly in the potential positive economic, academic, and healthful effects such an undertaking would mean for our region, the State of Illinois, and our country," the letter says.

The proposal floated by consultants hired by the UI and Carle is for a new engineering-based college of medicine to replace the current medical school at Urbana, which is now a regional campus of the UI's College of Medicine in Chicago. It would be independently accredited and overseen by a private, possibly not-for-profit organization created by the UI and Carle.

The college would tap into the campus' strengths in engineering research such as bioengineering and supercomputing.

Start-up costs for the first five years are estimated at $100 million. Long-range plans envision an enrollment of 200 students and a new $100 million building where physicians, students and UI scientists would collaborate on medical education and research projects.

Other local officials have supported the idea and its economic development potential, but also expressed concern about the possible tax implications if the college were to enjoy tax-exempt status.

Consultants said the current medical school supports 215 jobs in the region. Under the model recommended, the employment impact could reach 5,600 jobs by 2035 when the program is at "full maturity," according to consultants.

They also projected a $1.4 billion economic impact by 2035 and envisioned an "I-74 Medical Innovation Corridor," in which hospitals and clinics from Peoria to Bloomington to Danville collaborate in various opportunities.

UI and Carle officials say the idea needs further study. The proposal will go through the usual review by the academic senates and the UI Board of Trustees. Ultimately, it would have to be approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, as well as Carle's board.

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