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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Major updates given on Arizona Health Sciences Center

Dr. Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia, senior vice president for the Arizona Health Sciences Center, gave the State of Arizona Health Sciences Center address Tuesday afternoon.

“It has been such an honor and a privilege to have led the health sciences for the past two years,” Garcia said.

His address began with an announcement that Health Sciences will rebrand. The Arizona Health Sciences Center, the former name of the institution as of Tuesday, will be changed to the University of Arizona Health Sciences.

“I think this is a name change that will be really welcomed because I think this change brings a great strength to the [UA] brand,” Garcia said.

Garcia continued by saying that, in the past, when various components of Health Sciences were doing work in the medical community, their affiliation with the university was relatively unknown. He said he thinks this change will help bring all the components of Health Sciences better under the UA brand.

The last State of the Arizona Health Sciences Center address was given in 2013. During that address, the institution laid out two sets of goals that it expected to meet in one and five years, respectively.

One-year goals included: integration of resources across Health Sciences’ colleges and medical centers, recruitment of a new Cancer Center director, filling key leadership positions at the College of Medicine – Tucson campus, as well as forming advisory councils in four established areas of excellence to ensure that the institution stays on the right path.

“We’ve accomplished every one of these goals,” Garcia said.

He then moved on to Health Sciences’ progress on its five-year goals: improving the institution’s biomedical research portfolio, improving Health Sciences’ college ranking in national metrics, competing for the Clinical and Translational Science Award, increasing the number of physician scientists and increasing diversity across the institution as a whole.

“I think we have had really, really significant progress in each of these,” Garcia said.

He then detailed how Health Sciences has worked to achieve its five-year goals, taking time to outline each initiative and stepping stone that the institution needs to take to meet its own expectations.

The goal of increasing the biomedical research portfolio is a fraction of a larger goal set by the Arizona Board of Regents.

According to the UA’s Never Settle strategic plan, the Board of Regents challenged Health Sciences to double its 2010 research portfolio of roughly $600,000 to $1.2 billion in 2020.

“A pretty unbelievably audacious goal, I would say,” Garcia said. “We had a number of years of declining research revenues, including a pretty dramatic decline from 2012 to 2013. I’m very happy to say that we’ve weathered that decline.”

Garcia also noted an increasing trend of research expenditures, moving the institution closer to its $1.2 billion goal.

Garcia was able to report improvements in all the areas that goals were set, with the exception of one—increasing the number of physician scientists.

“We have just a ton of work to do in this area,” Garcia said.

There is a large demand from researchers for clinical collaborators to assist in their work, a job that is usually filled by physician scientists. Unfortunately, Health Sciences doesn’t have enough physician scientists to go around, which is putting researchers in a tight spot.

Garcia’s answer to this problem is to expand the college’s M.D./Ph.D. program, taking a program that in the past has only produced one physician scientist a year and increasing its numbers to eleven this year.

This would create the opportunity for an eventual influx of physician scientists in the future.

Wrapping up his address, Garcia summarized the Banner — Health University Medical Center merger.

The merger, which was finalized in February of this year, was described by Garcia as an absolute necessity.

In the years leading up to the merger, the center was operating at profit margin that varied between zero and 2 percent. 

In the 2014 fiscal year, the institution lost $41 million in revenue. Preliminary acquisition agreements were struck with Banner later in 2014, and the official merger happened in January of the next year.

“[The Banner transaction] can only really be summarized in one word, and that’s transformative. … It is essential for the University of Arizona Health Sciences to move forward in a sustainable fashion,” Garcia said.

Garcia then outlined the investments that Banner has made in Health Sciences, not limited to five new building projects, renovation of an existing campus and millions of dollars of capital investment to update facilities.

“We have a vision of where we want to go. I think we are making a difference now, and I think we are moving in a direction that is very positive,” Garcia said. “I think that we have aspirations, and yes, they’re ambitious.” 

Follow Sam Gross on Twitter.

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