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Council hears update on local med school

Thursday, June 27, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A new medical school being established locally will focus on training primary care physicians, Martinsville City Council learned Tuesday.

Many medical school graduates are pursuing specialty care fields, creating a shortage of doctors who treat patients’ general ailments, said Dr. Noel Boaz, board president of the Integrative Centers for Science and Medicine (ICSM), which is planning the College of Henricopolis School of Medicine

He said the shortage has become “a big problem now.”

Mayor Kim Adkins said she understands that after a planned expansion of Medicaid occurs, more than 8,000 additional Martinsville-Henry County residents are expected to qualify for the public assistance program.

Yet many doctors are not accepting new Medicaid patients, Adkins said. She and Boaz indicated that new doctors will be needed to treat those patients.

Everyone needs “a medical home” for their basic health care, Boaz said.

He said the school will not admit medical students based just on factors such as grade-point averages. Its faculty members also will consider who they perceive will make the best doctors such as by having caring, friendly personalities, he indicated.

Along that line, the College of Henricopolis “could become a model for other” medical schools, said Boaz, who founded the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville in the 1980s.

Boaz told the council he anticipates the college officially will open in September 2015 and see its first graduates in 2019.

He envisions as many as 300 students being admitted to the college yearly, he said.

The college will be established in a former grocery/furniture store building, donated by Dr. Mervyn and Virginia King, at the corner of Fayette and Moss streets in uptown Martinsville.

Three weeks ago, however, it began teaching its first course — a dissection-based anatomy class — to 24 medical students from around the nation, Boaz said. The course is being taught in temporary laboratory space set up in the West Piedmont Business Development Center uptown.

The former store building will be remodeled in a neoclassical style so it will “look more academic and professional” than it does now, Boaz said.

An eight-month-long Premedical Institute program is to start this fall, he said, before the medical doctor program begins in two years.

Workshops for practicing physicians and medical educators also are planned in the near future, he added.

Councilman Danny Turner asked how the physician curriculum will be designed.

It will be a four-year program teaching the basics of medicine in the first two years and then providing two years of clinical/hospital training, Boaz said.

Afterward, students must have at least a year-long residency at a medical facility before they can practice medicine on their own, he indicated.

Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge asked if the medical school will provide dormitories for its students.

Boaz replied that there “seems to be a fair amount of excess (vacant) housing,” such as apartments, already in the area.

The medical school is pursuing accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and other relevant organizations, according to Boaz.

Also Tuesday, the council learned that due to a local population decline, the West Piedmont Workforce Investment Board (WIB) saw its funding drop to about $2.66 million for the new fiscal year.

The WIB provides programs for job-seekers and employers and runs the Virginia Workforce Center on Commonwealth Boulevard in Martinsville.

Some programs will see their funds cut by as much as 10 percent, said Lisa Fultz, the WIB’s new executive director.

Fultz told the council that the WIB has applied for about $276,000 in state “rapid response” funds that would enable the workforce center to operate at essentially level funding. She is optimistic those funds will be received

She said the WIB will pursue partnerships with local entities it has not tried to partner with before in hopes of tapping into various funding streams.

Fultz could not be reached for further comment on Wednesday.

The council also:

• Nominated four of its members, plus two other city officials, to serve on Virginia Municipal League (VML) 2013 policy committees.

Hodge was nominated for the Transportation Committee. Adkins was nominated for the Community and Economic Development Committee. Vice Mayor Gene Teague was nominated for the General Laws Committee. Councilman Mark Stroud was nominated for the Human Development and Education Committee.

City Attorney Eric Monday was nominated for the Environmental Quality Committee. City Manager Leon Towarnicki was nominated for the Finance Committee.

Turner requested that he not be nominated for any committee. He said his opinions on issues differ with those of the VML, a nonpartisan organization that lobbies the General Assembly on behalf of localities and offer services such as research to cities, towns and counties, its website shows.

• Adopted a resolution confirming its decision for full-time city workers to provide 1 percent of their salaries to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS). The contribution will be offset by a 1 percent pay raise effective July 1. The VRS sought the resolution for its records.

Last year, the city decided to implement a 5 percent employee contribution required by the VRS by phasing in 1 percent increments over five years. The new fiscal year that starts July 1 will be the second year of the increments.

• Appropriated $7,500 into the general fund and $15,000 into the capital reserve fund for the current fiscal year. The money is from recovered costs, such as insurance reimbursements.

The money will be used to help pay wages for temporary city employees as well as pay for a new scoreboard at Hooker Field, a document shows.

• Postponed considering changing the city’s special events itinerant merchant business and professional license fee to $5.

Towarnicki and Ruth Easley, the city’s revenue commissioner, will do more research on ramifications of the change before it is considered, Adkins said.

• Heard from city resident Ural Harris, who asked the council to insist that American Municipal Power (AMP) executives come to Martinsville and take part in a forum, answering questions posed by the public.

AMP is an Ohio-based nonprofit organization through which Martinsville buys electricity distributed to city electric department customers.

 

 
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