Declaring consolidation a success, Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz on Monday said the university and its health system will now “shift gears” to focus on a hospital for Columbia County and other goals that stretch out for decades.
Speaking in his State of Georgia Regents University and Health System Enterprise annual address, Azziz praised the work of faculty and staff members in consolidating Augusta State and Georgia Heath Sciences universities over the past two years.
“You succeeded where many others have not,” he said. “We’ve actually moved faster and we’ve succeeded more completely than many of our peers that are in this process.”
That occurred despite severe cuts in state funding and federal research money in addition to other economic strains, Azziz said.
“We not only survived but we actually thrived in the face of one of the most challenging economic environments of our nation that we have ever faced in modern times, The Great Recession,” he said.
Now, though, it is time to “shift gears from managing rapid transformative change to generating long-term, sustainable growth,” Azziz said.
That includes improving student success through more programs and more support, and there is early evidence that it’s working, he said. The number of freshmen carrying 15 hours or more per semester to keep them on track to graduate was less than 4percent the year before but is 42 percent now, he said.
It also includes responding to opportunities, such as the proposal to create a $280 million to $310 million “health campus” in Columbia County, which would include a 144-bed hospital, “a 21st century community teaching hospital practicing 21st century medicine,” Azziz said.
Georgia Regents Health System is one of three bidders seeking to join with the county on seeking the necessary state permission to build at least a 100-bed hospital there. University Hospital and Doctors Hospital also have submitted plans that the Columbia County Commission is still reviewing. The commission is scheduled to take it up again at 2 p.m. Friday.
Azziz said he was not concerned that the health system, which supplies about 30 percent of the funding for the university, would meet that price tag. In addition to its own capital, “they have the ability to issue bonds, they have the ability to create partnerships with other entities that provide equity,” he said.
The overall vision “is not a five-year vision, or even a 10-year vision,” Azziz said.
“This is a 20-and 30-year vision with the ultimate goal of becoming a universally recognized great American university,” he said.
But that means also recognizing the opportunity the new hospital and health campus might represent, he said.
“Those are the kinds of things that I strongly believe we should be prepared to actually embrace and leverage,” Azziz said.