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Gov. Kemp and UGA Officials Break Ground on New Medical School Building

Photo credit: Blake Aued

University of Georgia and state officials broke ground last week on a new building for UGA’s future medical school.

“Today is an exciting and transformational day for the University of Georgia,” President Jere Morehead said at an Apr. 19 ceremony attended by hundreds of people.

UGA has operated a medical school on the Health Sciences Campus in partnership with Augusta University (formerly the Medical College of Georgia) since taking over the former Navy Supply Corps School in 2010. But earlier this year the Board of Regents approved a medical school solely operated by UGA, and Gov. Brian Kemp and the state legislature included $50 million in the state budget for a new building.

UGA is matching that figure with private donations. “We are well on our way of achieving that goal,” Morehead said.

Current University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue was governor when then-UGA President Michael Adams was pushing for an Athens medical school. It was a contentious issue back then, with powerful figures in Augusta opposed to the idea, but the controversy seems to have faded. Perdue said the new UGA College of Medicine will have a “synergistic relationship” with the Augusta medical school. 

The new school will double enrollment from 60 to 120 over a period of years. Georgia ranks 40th in number of doctors per capita, and nine counties don’t have any physicians at all, according to Shelly Nuss, who served as dean of the medical partnership and was recently named founding dean of the UGA medical school. “The fact is, Georgia needs more doctors, and we need them now,” Nuss said.

With 171,000 new jobs created in the past five years, adding physicians is critical for Georgia to maintain economic growth, Gov. Brian Kemp said. “One of our top priorities is building a strong health care workforce pipeline,” he said.

The 92,000 square-foot educational and research building will be located on a wooded field near the Foster Road entrance to the Health Sciences Campus off of Oglethorpe Avenue.

Later, Kemp held a signing ceremony for a bill loosening rules for opening new hospitals and other health care facilities. Some legislators wanted to eliminate the Certificate of Need process—which requires hospitals to show sufficient demand before opening—altogether, but in the end the legislature passed a bill shortening the review timeline and expanding tax credits for rural health care. 

Blake Aued From left: AJC reporters Tia Mitchell, Patricia Murphy, Bill Nigut and Greg Bluestein, and Gov. Brian Kemp. Credit: Blake Aued

Health care was something of a theme for Kemp during his visit to his hometown of Athens. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recorded an episode of its “Politically Georgia” podcast at the UGA Chapel Apr. 18 with Kemp as a guest. During the conversation, Kemp said for the first time publicly that he is opposed to expanding Medicaid, and that he intervened when it appeared a Senate committee might put Medicaid expansion on the floor for a vote. Kemp’s brother-in-law, Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), cast the deciding “no” vote at the committee meeting. On the show, Kemp argued that expanding Medicaid would not insure more people, but would merely move them off of private insurance and onto government insurance rolls.