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October 19, 2022

Meritus holds groundbreaking ceremony for new medical school in Hagerstown area

Credit: Herald-Mail, Julie Greene

With a vision to address community health care needs for generations to come, Meritus Health officials held a “groundbreaking” ceremony Tuesday afternoon for the proposed Meritus School of Osteopathic Medicine near the nonprofit’s hospital east of Hagerstown.

A lack of doctors can lead to a lack of quality and discrepancies in care, Meritus Health President and CEO Maulik Joshi said of the need for Meritus to start its own medical school.

There are not enough physicians in the region, state or nation, with a shortage of 52 physicians in the area now, Joshi said. In Maryland, one out of three physicians is over 60 years old, he said.

Medical, business and political leaders, including Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-6th, met Tuesday by 3.5 acres of grass on the south side of the medical campus, along Robinwood Drive near Mount Aetna Road, to ceremonially break ground on what is estimated to be an approximately $85 million to $90 million medical school building. Those costs include the roughly $70 million construction of the five-story school, plus other costs such as design, permits, furnishings and equipment, project officials said.

Hogan and Trone spoke to the crowd. Also attending was Del. Neil Parrott, the Republican nominee and Trone’s opponent for the 6th Congressional District.

“With the toll the pandemic took on our health care workforce, we know that there is a pressing need to hire and train more physicians in the future, especially in our rural communities,” Hogan said. “Today, once again, Meritus is answering the call by advancing this new, state-of-the-art school of osteopathic medicine.

“This institution will educate and prepare the next generation of physicians to serve patients not just here, but all across the state of Maryland — but especially the people right here in this community,” Hogan said.

The Meritus groundbreaking was one of a few stops Hogan made Tuesday in Washington County. He also attended ceremonies for the planned Hitachi Rail plant in the Halfway area and the multi-use sports facility in downtown Hagerstown.

The medical school is still considered a proposal until it is approved for accreditation by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation and the Maryland Higher Education Commission, said Dave Lehr, chief strategy officer for Meritus Health.

There are phases of accreditation with the final one not coming until the first students graduate, he said.

The project’s economic impact also was touted on Tuesday.

Meritus reported that the medical school’s “capital impacts” from 2023 to 2026 are estimated to be $268 million, according to an independent economic impact study done by strategic consulting firm Tripp Umbach. That’s 1,595 jobs created and $6.2 million in tax revenues.

The project is expected to contribute over $120 million a year to the state’s gross domestic product after 2030.

Medical school, residence hall timeline

Plans also are still in the works for a residence hall along Medical Campus Road, across from the Robinwood Professional Center.

Meritus officials are hoping not to build the residence hall on their own and are talking to a potential private partner, Lehr said. When plans for the college were announced this summer the thought was the residential hall would accommodate roughly 300 student residences, but Lehr said it will probably be 200 to 250.

Meritus Health officials handed out materials that stated the construction timeline is a year.

The timeline for both buildings is the same, to be ready for the college’s first class to begin in 2025.

The target date to complete the medical school building is spring 2025 so students can start that fall, Lehr said. That is a target date that depends on regulatory and accreditation steps.

With four years to earn a doctor of osteopathy, the first class would graduate in 2029.

Dr. Paula Gregory, the school’s inaugural dean, said doctors of osteopathy can join any specialty.

About 57% of them become primary care doctors, she said.

Details about the medical school building

Greg Snook, board chairman for Meritus Health, said BFM Architects of Hagerstown did the design, Davis Construction of Rockville, Md., is the contractor, and real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, based in Chicago, will help represent Meritus Health with the contractor and architects.

The medical school’s second floor will have three large lecture halls with seating for more than 180 people, eight small group study/elective rooms, a library, a lounge, and student amenities, according to information provided by Meritus Health.

The third floor will have an osteopathic manipulative medicine lab, a simulation center, and a virtual and gross anatomy lab.

The first floor will have a six-way divisible conference center with seating for more than 600, a full-service kitchen and dining area, study areas, networking space, and state-of-the-art audiovisual for hybrid meeting setups.

The fourth and fifth floors will have office space and room for growth. There also will be a rooftop deck.