10:26 PM PDT on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

By LORA HINES
The Press-Enterprise

UC Riverside officials announced Wednesday that the opening of their proposed medical school will be postponed a year because they did not secure the ongoing state funding needed to gain accreditation.

The announcement from Chancellor Timothy White came the day after Democrats in Sacramento passed a 2011-12 budget that did not include extra funding for the medical school. The budget, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed Wednesday night, cut another $150 million from the UC system on top of the $500 million reduction taken earlier this year.

The 2011-12 budget year starts Friday.

University officials, Riverside County leaders and Inland area state lawmakers said they were disappointed in the medical school’s setback. However, they vowed that they would continue to fight for the school’s accreditation and opening in 2013.

“We can’t focus on the negative,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, the medical school dean. “We had a shot and we came really close to getting it open. We better get it open in ’13.”

He said he will work to develop the medical school’s programs and secure funding to ensure accreditation.

“If we fail, there will never be a medical school at UCR,” Olds said. “It’s not like I can keep trying forever. I’ve got five months to redo a business plan and an approach.”

University officials were informed June 7 by an accreditation panel that the medical school would not be accredited because the state had not committed to ongoing funding. The medical school needed a promise of about $15 million a year from the state, university officials have said.

The university had 30 days to appeal the decision by the Liaison Committee for Medical Education. The school will reapply for accreditation around Dec. 1, Olds said.

The Washington, D.C.-based committee requires proposed medical schools to prove financial sustainability, no matter the funding source.

In a June 14 letter, the committee stated that it denied the medical school’s accreditation because it “has not developed satisfactory plans for its educational program, does not have resources to assure that a sound program of medical education can be sustained and has not made sufficient progress toward compliance with accreditation standards to admit the charter class of 2012.”

Besides funding, the report cites five other reasons primarily involving program and staff development to deny accreditation. However, UCR officials say funding is the core issue that prevented accreditation. They say they were prepared to address the other citations if they had appealed.

White said in his statement that an appeal is impossible if the university is required to prove recurring state funding.

Olds said the fully-accredited UCR/UCLA Thomas Haider Program in Biomedical Science will continue to train about 50 first- and second-year medical students before they finish their degrees at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

FUNDING A SCHOOL

The medical school has been in the works for years and was set to open in 2012 and eventually fill a health care void in the Inland area. UCR cannot recruit medical students or accept applications without accreditation. The estimated cost of developing the school is $500 million.

The medical school received a one-time $10 million appropriation in the 2010-11 budget. The UC regents have not been willing to redirect money to UCR’s medical school from their existing budget. In their original proposed 2011-12 budget, the regents asked for an additional $10 million for the medical school. Brown didn’t include the money in his budget.

UCR has received $19 million in public funding so far, with an additional $10 million committed from Riverside County over the next two years. An additional $25 million has either been given or promised by the private sector.

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the California Department of Finance, said the governor supports the medical school. But the regents need to use their existing budget to pay for it, he said.

No one from the regents could be reached for comment.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

University officials and Riverside leaders spent the past few weeks rallying the community to urge lawmakers to secure the funding the school needed to get it accredited and opened on time.

“Obviously the unfortunate part is the school of medicine got caught in the budget,” said Cindy Roth, president of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce. “But it remains important for the Inland area. We’ve got to make sure that message continues to be communicated. We can’t let up.”

Roth said the push in the past month came up short but will remain the game plan for encouraging state funding in the future.

“There is no question we are going to stay focused and work with the chancellor to get that message to our elected officials that this school of medicine is important,” Roth said.

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