Taken by Leena Butt

The bill, AB 1309, that would have provided $15 million in funding to the School of Medicine at UCR is now effectively dead after failing to pass through a key state Senate committee. Officials at the School of Medicine believe it will not hinder the planned opening of the medical school in 2013.

The School of Medicine had previously planned to admit students in 2012 but did not receive accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), the organization in charge of approving medical schools in the United States and Canada. The school has reapplied for accreditation this year in hopes of opening in summer of 2013 and is awaiting a decision to be made next month.

“We felt good about the way the application process went,” said Kathy Barton, executive director of Strategic Initiatives at the School of Medicine. The lack of consistent funding had initially stymied plans to open the school in 2012. When asked how UCR would be able to address insufficient funds that may now result from the loss of $15 million, Barton responded, “We had not counted on that [funding].”

“We certainly would have liked to have had [the bill] be approved since it was a one-time $15 million in support for the UCR SOM (School of Medicine),” stated Dean of the School of Medicine Dr. G. Richard Olds. “Having said that, we have raised $100 million in non-state support over the last year and reapplied for accreditation.”

AB 1309 was originally introduced by Republican Assemblyman Jeff Miller of Corona as a transportation bill. After passing without a single nay vote in the Assembly, it was amended to its current form. The change resulted in it being placed before the Senate Appropriations Committee—the committee that deals with the allocation of state funds. By a party-line vote of four to two, the Democrats on the committee moved to place the bill on the Suspense File. But because the deadline to consider appropriations bills ended on Sept. 13, it is unlikely that AB 1309 will be taken off the Suspense File and reconsidered.

The funding would have been a one-time allocation from a legal settlement with SCAN, a healthcare plan that allegedly double-billed the state of California, as stated in Senate bill AB 1309.

Both Miller, who is running for a state Senate seat in the Riverside area, and his opponent, Democrat Richard Roth, have emphasized their support for the medical school. In a video statement, Miller expressed dismay at the bill’s death, “This is so critical for our community, and with your help I will keep fighting to make sure that the UCR Medical School opens in 2013.” Roth has faulted Miller for waiting “until the last months of his term in the state Assembly to do something about the UC Riverside Medical School.”

Meanwhile, much of Riverside County continues to be designated as a medically underserved area. The ratio of primary care physicians statewide is one per 847 people; the level in Riverside County is nearly double that at one per 1,576 people, according to a Senate healthcare bill, SB 1416.  Executive Administrative Specialist for the School of Medicine Jessica Kump pointed to the potential positive impact of having the medical school in the region, saying, “We are educating physicians that will be part of this economy, serving the public good.”

Dr. Olds is optimistic about the accreditation process and stressed the benefit that the school would bring to the Riverside area. “The SOM will have an immediate financial impact on our area, it will have an immediate and long term impact on the physician shortage in our area and it will have the long term impact on the health of our community,” stated Olds.