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UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang offered an engaging smile and a sense of exuberance as he and others provided a status report Nov. 16 on the push for a UC medical school in central California.
The goal is to open the campus in 2013 with 32 students, and have 284 enrolled by 2023. In the words of Maria Pallavicini, dean of UC Merced's school of natural sciences, the crux is "what to do to get the 'when' to happen quickly."
Many in the Fresno UC Center audience of 100 business, political, health and community leaders have seen noble efforts launched before, and gone awry. (Why did Merced land the first Valley campus? There's plenty of info online about the Table Mountain site vs. the Academy site, the Fresno vs. Madera internecine fight that ended with the land of the fairy shrimp in Merced being home to future Nobel laureates.)
What's needed, once again, to borrow from "Fresno: the Miniseries" is the political power, the mass passion -- and front end-loaders of dollars. The Modesto Bee reaffirmed that last point by quoting a member of the governing UC Regents as saying last week that funding will be an issue because "farmers can be stingy." The competition, at the moment, comes from Riverside and Los Angeles, which is trying to resurrect Drew Medical School after its ties with troubled former MLK medical center.
It is, unfortunately, a minor matter in the world of politics that the Valley has enormous health-care access issues -- a huge land mass, too few doctors, too many poor patients and government reimbursement rates that are among the worst in the nation. One Fresno audience member said that graduating doctors doesn't mean they'll stay. Somebody else mentioned that if there aren't enough medical residents slots at the hospitals -- like Community Medical Centers -- where new docs will do their final hands-on training, the medical school itself won't help much.
The briefing occurred as Sacramento bureaucrats continued to try to craft a health care reform package that gets votes and avoids a losing battle with Big Tobacco with another cigarette tax idea. Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton wrote that everybody needs to get real -- what really needs to happen is to forget costly health care reform, hike sales and car taxes, and gut services to deal with a budget deficit of $10 billion or so.
Valley residents are accustomed to seeing the Bluebird of Happiness smeared across their SUV's window. Maybe it'd help if Donald Trump pumped some loot and prestige into the medical school plan before its backers seek formal support from the UC Regents in January.