A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKU breaks ground on $105m Health Innovation Center, for ‘next generation’ of health professionals

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

Ground was officially broken Tuesday on NKU’s Health Innovation Center, funded by a $97 million allocation from the Kentucky General Assembly and an $8 million investment from St. Elizabeth Healthcare,

Governor Steve Beshear joined Northern Kentucky University President Geoffrey Mearns and state and local dignitaries Wednesday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the university’s Health Innovation Center.

Mearns said the facility will enable the university to educate the community’s next generation of health care professionals and health care leaders.
NKU HIC exterior II

“In our region and throughout the Commonwealth there is a well-documented need to expand existing programs and to create new programs to educate health care providers of the 21st century,” Mearns said. “A study that was recently conducted by our Center for Economic Analysis and Development concluded that our region will need more than 50,000 new qualified health care workers just by the year 2020.”

Mearns credited Beshear for embracing the university’s vision for the innovation center from the beginning.

“You have made health care and health care access, the hallmark of your service to the commonwealth,” Mearns said. “Your dedication, your leadership to health and health care, to education and to economic development was truly evident when you decided to include our project in your 2014 budget recommendation.”

Beshear said NKU is the intellectual center and energy source for Northern Kentucky.

“A region can’t be great without a great university,” Beshear said. “Here in Northern Kentucky, a region that includes over 450,000 people, that connection is especially true. The strength of this region, its competitiveness, its creativity, its ambition, its soul, is rooted right here.”

Beshear cautioned, however, that the region, and the state, will not reach its full potential unless it aggressively tackles some of the core weaknesses, such as poor health, that have held Kentucky back for generations. He said there is a direct line between poor health and almost every challenge Kentucky faces, from poverty and unemployment to lags in educational attainment, substance abuse and crime.

Governor Steve Beshear spoke about the need for improved health care in the Commonwealth during the groundbreaking of NKU's Health Innovation Center Wednesday (Photos by Mark Hansel)

Governor Steve Beshear spoke about the need for improved health care in the Commonwealth. (Photo by Mark Hansel)

“Big problems like this require big solutions and we’ve been employing many of those solutions over the last eight years,” Beshear said. “We’ve made progress but we’re not there yet. We cannot sustain our progress unless we have the healthcare infrastructure to support it and the intellection wherewithal to pursue innovative solutions to old problems and that’s where NKU’s Health Innovation Center comes in.”

The project includes construction of the new facility and the renovation of Founders Hall, the second-oldest academic building at NKU. Construction is expected to be completed in 2018.

When completed, the Health Innovation Center will be the first new academic building constructed on NKU’s Highland Heights campus since Griffin Hall, home to the College of Informatics, opened in October 2011.

It is expected to open in 2018. It will be home to the College of Health Professions and provide space to grow existing programs as well as add offerings, including an addiction science program.

The center will bring together experts from each of NKU’s six colleges to create transdisciplinary teams to study health care from new perspectives. The approach will combine data analytics, psychology, preventative care, and holistic approaches to help address population health challenges such as addiction and chronic illness.

The facility is designed by CO Architects of Los Angeles and GBBN Architects of Cincinnati. The construction manager is Turner Construction of Cincinnati.

The St. Elizabeth Healthcare investment represents the second-largest philanthropic contribution in NKU history. It will finance the construction and equipping of a two-story, state-of-the-art St. Elizabeth Healthcare Simulation Center to be located inside the Health Innovation Center.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare CEO Garren Colvin said the contribution is an investment in the future of NKU and St. Elizabeth.

“This will help both organizations have a say in the development of the health care professionals that will lead us in the future,” Colvin said. “When you look at the average age of the healthcare workforce, we have a loft of mature individuals that are at or near retirement. In addition to that, the new health care of the future will demand a different kind of health care professional and more of them, so those two forces will really drive the significant need.”

Groundbreaking (Photo provided)

Groundbreaking (Photo provided)

Beshear said the public-private partnership between St. Elizabeth and NKU is an example of the collaboration that has driven the region’s success. During his eight years as governor, Beshear said he has held Northern Kentucky up as an example for the rest of the commonwealth.

“When I came into this office I learned very quickly what this area had already done to come together and to collaborate on moving the whole region forward,” Beshear said. “You had put together a plan (and) all of your political and civic leadership had joined together. You forgot about politics, you forgot about county lines…and instead remembered that you were Northern Kentuckians first and all that other stuff second, and because you have, look at the success that you have experienced.”

Beshear is in the last months of his final term, and there is much speculation about what he will do next. Mearns said that wherever he is, he hopes Beshear will come back to the campus and participate in the ribbon-cutting for the facility.
Beshear closed his presentation with a response to that invitation.

The unique NKU Norse hardhats provided by Turner Construction for Wednesday's groundbreaking

The unique NKU Norse hardhats provided by Turner Construction for Wednesday’s groundbreaking

“Mr. President, wherever I am in 2018, I want to be right here,” Beshear said.

Beshear, Cooper on the Senior Services issue

As he was leaving, Beshear spotted Lisa Cooper, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Area Development District and asked about the recently announced shutdown of Social Services of Northern Kentucky. The agency operates 10 senior centers in the region and provides other services, including meals and transportation to seniors in an eight-county will close its doors for good Friday.

The NKADD has stepped in to provide stopgap measures and has a plan to provide continuation of most services, with the assistance of the region’s elected officials. Cooper told Beshear the biggest challenge will be the transportation of seniors to medical appointments, which has been handled through an outside agency.

Beshear told Cooper to contact his office for assistance.

“We want to help in any way we can,” he said.

Beshear and Riverfront Commons

Beshear was also in Covington Wednesday to present $3.9 million in federal funding which will be used to stimulate additional development of the Riverfront Commons Trail.

The funds will pay for nearly a quarter-mile of the multi-use path that, when completed, will stretch more than 11 miles and unite communities along the Ohio River from Ludlow to Fort Thomas.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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