July 24, 2024
SEDAC: Sussex medical school branch is feasible

SEDAC: Sussex medical school branch is feasible

More workforce development opportunities for the healthcare industry are needed in Delaware, specifically in its lower county, according to a new study from the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee (SEDAC). l PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE/UNSPLASH

SUSSEX COUNTY — More workforce development opportunities for the healthcare industry are needed in Delaware, specifically in its lower county, according to a new study from the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee (SEDAC).

The “Sussex County Osteopathic Medical School Feasibility Study,” completed by leading consulting firm Tripp Umbach, found that a new “branch campus of an established osteopathic medical school is a needed and viable strategy to increase the physician workforce and advance healthcare quality in Sussex County.”

Tripp Umbach estimated the cost of a new medical school to be housed in Sussex County to clock in at around $85 million. That cost includes property acquisition, building a 60,000 square-foot building, and other start-up costs. The research company further estimated that “by 2035, each graduating class of new physicians who remain in Sussex County to practice will have an economic impact of $72 million annually and support 383 additional jobs.”

The study was just a first step, according to SEDAC. Economic Development and Healthcare Subcommittee Chair Chris Weeks said no future site location or potential partner school has been identified as of yet. 

Delaware’s most southern county could be the best fit for a new endeavor based on its growing and aging population which continues to outpace the other two counties, according to the study. Its significant shortage in current and incoming medical professionals was also a consideration as it led to Sussex County’s 2019 designation as a medically underserved area, a recognition that is shared by Kent County and parts of New Castle County. 

Although schools throughout the state have tried to address healthcare-based workforce concerns in recent years, such as Delaware Technical Community College which opened its first bachelor’s program in 2017 focused on nursing, the study suggests the First State is still missing the mark for residents in Sussex County. 

“The need for more physicians in Sussex County is a pressing concern that has significant implications for the state’s healthcare system and its residents,” the study stated.

To date, Delaware remains at odds between its current workforce development opportunities in the medical field and its growing population as one of only four states in the country without a state medical school of its own. 

None of the colleges or universities in Delaware have doctoral programs specifically in medicine, although several have master’s and doctoral programs in medically based specialty areas, including nursing or medical sciences. 

To find the education needed to succeed in the industry, residents have had to travel out-of-state while paying the out-of-state rates associated with their school of choice. 

The study also found that Sussex County residents are noticeably underrepresented in the Delaware Institute for Medical Education and Research (DIMER) program, a state-sponsored program to provide Delaware students with access to medical school at two Philadelphia-based programs, the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

It is concerning that DIMER graduates seldom choose to practice within Sussex County,” the study added.

In fact, the study expands on the issue, stating the vast majority of DIMER graduates are from New Castle County. Most DIMER graduates end up finding employment in states other than Delaware.  

To combat the issue in Sussex County, the study concluded that support from the three major hospital systems currently supporting Sussex County, to include Bayhealth, Beebe Healthcare and TidalHealth Nanticoke, will be crucial in the industry’s next steps forward as it considers its own medical school branch, as well as funding, workforce housing and other needs. 

“SEDAC recognizes that our county is experiencing a shortage of doctors, and it will only get worse,” Weeks said in a press release. “We cannot stand still. With the study report, we now have concrete steps to take to have a positive impact on healthcare and the regional economy.”

SEDAC committed to continuing the conversation of bringing more healthcare-based workforce development opportunities to Sussex County, as well as supporting DIMER in recruiting Sussex County students in the future.

“As the need grows for healthcare professionals, creating opportunities to attract, train and retain physicians in Delaware is crucial to keeping our state healthy,” Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware President Nick Moriello said in the press release from SEDAC. “We appreciate the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee leading a feasibility study for a Sussex County medical school as we collectively seek solutions to our healthcare workforce shortage.”

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