A few weeks ago, we had the enormous pleasure together of breaking ground on the new, nearly $400 million IU Health Regional Academic Health Center that is being built on the historic Indiana University Bloomington campus. This over 700,000-square-foot complex combines both a state-of-the-art, new IU Health Bloomington Hospital that replaces the old hospital, first established more than 100 years ago in 1905, with a new IU Academic Health Sciences Building that will consolidate most of the academic health sciences programs on the campus.

Breaking ground on a new hospital is a once-in-a-century event. It is a momentous enough occasion in itself. But this new facility will be much more than a hospital. Rather, it will be, as is reflected in its name, an academic health center, one that will soon be a national model for how to educate new generations of health professionals, catalyze medical research, translate scientific breakthroughs into improved approaches to health and disease, and act as a major economic engine for southern Indiana.

The new Regional Academic Health Center will be the most comprehensive academic health campus in the Hoosier state outside of Indianapolis. It will bring together IU Health physicians, clinicians and medical staff with IU faculty, staff and students in a central space in a way that will enhance and broaden patient care services and more effectively meet the emerging health care needs of the region and Hoosiers across our state.

The new center will expand the opportunities for health sciences education and research at IU Bloomington, enabling students of medicine, nursing, social work, speech and hearing sciences, and other related fields to fully and effectively participate in inter-professional education activities, where students from these different disciplines train together in the same way that they will work together when they graduate. Furthermore, it will provide new space and modern facilities that will allow us to considerably increase the number of students in these programs, thus helping the university address the well-documented and acute shortage of healthcare workers in Indiana. Specifically, IU expects to increase the number of medical and nursing students by over 50 percent in coming years.

The center will also help IU and IU Health maximize their full capacity for research in the health sciences. To this end, it will serve as a state-of-the-art home for many faculty and students who conduct biomedical, clinical, population-level and health sciences research, and help them translate their discoveries into new diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and other improved approaches to health and disease.

Truly transformative improvements in health care do not happen in isolation. They occur when research, education and training, and patient care are integrated and intermingled, and when each of these key elements informs the other to advance a unified purpose – that of outstanding health care based on some of the most innovative and advanced treatments and practices.

These constantly improving and evolving practices form the core of what defines an academic health center. They are widely described as a “virtuous cycle” – one in which the results of basic laboratory research in the health sciences are applied, trialed and tested in a clinical setting with the patients directly benefiting from the breakthroughs.

As Paul Rothman, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, writes, "When it comes to solving vexing scientific and medical questions, no one has a better track record in producing outcomes …than this country’s academic health centers."

The new Regional Academic Health Center represents the largest single economic development investment in the history of the city of Bloomington and the region. It is expected to employ thousands of individuals, not only in its construction phase but also on its completion, in patient care and support services. It will have a large impact on the economic vitality in the city and surrounding region by spurring other business development in areas around the center. As we have seen in other high-impact marketplaces around the country, an academic health sciences center offers a major competitive advantage in attracting new business ideas and innovations.

The health care challenges facing our state’s communities have been well-documented. IU Health and IU are fully committed to leveraging our talent, expertise and ideas – not in a vacuum, but in a complementary, collaborative and energetic way focused on the vital task of improving the health and well-being of our state and beyond.

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