duluth campus

U of M Proposal Advances Partnership with Duluth Community Health Systems to Prepare the Future Health Care Workforce in Greater Minnesota

January 27, 2022

The University of Minnesota is proposing to design and build a new academic health care center located in the Duluth Medical District. The initial focus will provide students an interprofessional education and practice in medicine and pharmacy, in collaboration with the two Duluth health care systems, Essentia Health and St. Luke’s. As part of the University’s 2022 comprehensive legislative request, $12 million has been proposed to conduct the design phase for the new academic health center facility. If approved by the legislature, building design could begin this summer.

The University’s Medical and Pharmacy schools lead regional programs from the University of Minnesota Duluth campus to train medical and pharmacy students who will serve rural communities throughout Minnesota. A 2018 feasibility study demonstrated a need for both programs to expand to meet the growing demand for health care professionals in the region. This collaboration will prepare a health care workforce and better address the needs of Duluth, Greater Minnesota and local Indigenous populations.

“The University of Minnesota is committed to expanding our capacity to provide world-class care for Minnesotans in Greater Minnesota," said University President Joan Gabel. “Through this important partnership, we are amplifying the University’s impact and contribution to communities by creating new space for classrooms, specialty labs, student life and beyond with a goal to make it available by fall 2025.” 

A new building, housed in the Duluth Medical District in close proximity to Essentia Health and St. Luke’s, would offer new opportunities for collaboration, and create a sense of continuity for students throughout their academic journeys. The partnership would also establish new opportunities for clinical faculty of both programs to practice in the region and provide access to health care for historically underserved patients in Greater Minnesota.

“This opportunity is in line with our land-grant mission and our continued commitment to Greater Minnesota and the Duluth region, specifically. We are thankful for the opportunity to discuss how academic medicine, including training and clinical research, can enhance the great care provided to Minnesotans in the region,” said Jakub Tolar, MD, PhD, vice president for clinical affairs at the University of Minnesota and dean of the U of M Medical School. 

“We are incredibly excited by the possibilities students would have to be immersed in interprofessional education and practice in collaboration with Essentia Health and St. Luke’s,” said Lynda Welage, PharmD, FCCP, dean of the U of M College of Pharmacy. “Our students would be even better prepared to meet the needs of Minnesotans in the ever-changing landscape of healthcare.”

Health care is a leading industry in the region and currently responsible for about 30 percent of total local employment, according to the City of Duluth. Not only is this partnership important to the area’s economic future, but it will help meet the increasing need for high-quality health services.

“I first met with the University of Minnesota two years ago and invited them to expand their innovation, footprint and impact through co-location within our revitalized medical district. From day one, it has been a conversation rooted in the possible, and we are deeply grateful to the University for making this level of commitment to Duluth,” said Emily Larson, mayor of Duluth. “During this unprecedented time of economic investment in our City, we hope this design will lead to construction of a new world-class education center, embedded in a renowned medical setting serving Greater Minnesota. Literally, everyone wins with this expansion: the patients, the students, the community and the University.”

St. Luke’s and Essentia make up the core of the Duluth Medical District, where the systems are planning for new hospitals and clinics, renovated facilities, and areas available for housing and other development that position the region and its residents for a successful future.

“At Essentia Health, we are committed to bringing the highest quality health care to the communities we are privileged to serve,” said David C. Herman, Essentia Health CEO. “Investing in the future of our health care workforce is fundamental to delivering on our mission. Expanding our partnership with the University of Minnesota through a new medical education center near our downtown Duluth campus will help us attract and retain top talent, ensuring sustainable health care for our region.”

“We have worked with the medical and pharmacy schools since the inception of their Duluth campuses,” said Dr. Nick Van Deelen, St. Luke’s co-president/CEO and chief medical officer. “This expanded partnership will allow us to provide even stronger support in the education of tomorrow’s health care providers and, ultimately, meet the growing health care needs of this region.”

This proposal is part of the University's $935.6 million state capital request for the 2022 legislative session. Each program and project in the request aims to accelerate and strengthen the University of Minnesota’s unique ability to address the most pressing challenges facing Minnesotans, today and into the future.

This story was originally published by the University of Minnesota on Jan. 27, 2022.

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