MCG hires growth consultant

The consultant hired to help Medical College of Georgia come up with a plan for expanding the School of Medicine said it is about more than just educating more students.

The school announced Friday it had retained Tripp Umbach of Pittsburgh to come up with an expansion plan by the end of the year that could be presented to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents in January. Tripp Umbach was chosen from three firms and was the low bidder at $332,000.

The school had initially looked at a 40-student satellite in Athens in conjunction with the University of Georgia ,but officials now say they will look at all options, including expanding in Augusta.

"The message I got clearly from the (expansion planning) committee was it's not just Athens, it's also looking at other sites around the state and looking for the best plan," said Paul Umbach, the firm's president and founder.

The medical school expanded classes from 180 to 190 students last year and will expand to 200 students in 2009, but the consultant is being told to plan for about 245 students. As part of that, Tripp Umbach is taking a look at the clinical campuses the school has in Albany and is establishing in Savannah.

"We rely heavily on those campuses right now to carry out the clinical training that we need our students to have in the community to complete our curriculum," said D. Douglas Miller, the dean of the School of Medicine. "So if we expanded our class, we think that the clinical training requirements of an expanded class would require us probably to test whether those campuses would be ready to look at more students on clinical rotations there."

While those are not residential programs now, they could become places where students spend a year of clinical training, he said.

Tripp Umbach is one of the most experienced firms in health care planning and in the past four years has worked with seven other projects that were looking to start or expand medical schools.

One was the University of Arizona, which opened a satellite campus in Phoenix in conjunction with Arizona State University, a project that has some parallels with Georgia, Mr. Umbach said. His firm did an analysis that found the satellite of 150 students could be worth $1.1 billion to $2.1 billion annually by 2025 when fully realized. That included expanded research, business spin-offs and a new teaching hospital.

"They're all tied together, research and the clinical and the education, so we need to find what's the best way to really grow what I call the academic health industry in the state, not just adding more medical students," Mr. Umbach said. "What we're trying to do is create the best long-term plan to help Georgia stay very competitive in biomedical research and economic development while at the same time making sure that students are trained properly in the right settings and at the same time creating a plan where patients can be treated and handled in the most appropriate setting."

But unlike Phoenix, MCG already has a well-established and successful academic health center, Mr. Umbach said.

"One thing that is important is we have to understand what is already there and there is quite a strong infrastructure already in place," he said. "So it's a matter of looking beyond where you are but not discounting where you are."

Tripp Umbach will also be looking at residency training expansion and how that will coordinate with other efforts to expand in the state, Dr. Miller said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.