Column: State medical college gets $8 million Woodruff Foundation gift

By Maria Saporta
Friday, April 13, 2012

Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta has received an $8 million gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation to support its expansion plans as well as help train more health professionals in the state.

The Woodruff gift will go towards the building of a state-of-the-art simulation center in the university’s proposed Education Commons building that will have classrooms and labs for both the medical college and the dental school.

“We have fewer physicians per capita than we ought to have,” said Russ Hardin, president of the Woodruff Foundation. He said the gift would help the university increase the number of its medical students from the current 230 a year to as many as 300. “That’s huge.”

Dr. Ricardo Azziz, president of Georgia Health Sciences University, said it currently is the sixth-largest medical school in the country. It also has the largest graduate nursing program in the state as well as the only dental school. Once it increases to 300 medical students each year, Azziz said GHSU will be the second-largest medical school in the country.

GHSU also is consolidating its campus with Augusta State University and including its sister institution’s nursing program.

All that means that the university has a need for additional labs and classrooms. The medical simulation facility and the Education Commons will cost about $70 million in all with about $32 million of it being raised privately. Azziz said the university already has received a $10 million gift in addition to the Woodruff grant.

Azziz said that currently GHSU now trains one out of every five physicians practicing in the state, and one out of every four dentists.

“There are clear shortages of physicians in Georgia. We need to increase the number of physicians, especially in rural areas,” Azziz said. The new Education Commons building and the simulation center “will help us better train health professionals for Georgia.”

Specifically, Georgia ranks 41st in physicians per 100,000 people, and 45th in primary care physicians per 100,000 people.

Azziz said the plan is to start construction on the Education Commons building this fall, and he said the hope is to open at least part of the facility by the end of 2013.

“We are very grateful to Woodruff for this donation,” Azziz said. “For me personally, it means that we are beginning to really be recognized for the value that we bring to the state of Georgia. I’m really delighted the Woodruff Foundation has made this gift because it’s a vote of support in the vision and direction that the institution is taking.”

More pizazz for Jazz

Slowly but surely the Atlanta Jazz Festival is returning to its glory days.

Last year, the Atlanta Jazz Festival was only a two-day festival over Memorial Day weekend. This year, the festival is back to three days at Piedmont Park.

Camille Love, director of the city of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs, said the challenge always is getting a robust group of sponsors to help put on the free music festival.

“We see daylight,” Love said about the sponsorship efforts for the 2012 festival, which will take place between May 26 and May 28. “But we could always use more support.”

The budget for this year’s festival is $400,000. The city provides $100,000 for the event, and Love said that another $200,000 has been secured.
“We still need $100,000, but I can see daylight,” said Love, who is hoping to secure other sponsors by the end of April.

Among sponsors already signed up are PNC Bank, Publix, Coca-Cola, Clear, the Cartoon Network, Chick-fil-A, Loews Atlanta Hotel, Cayrum, MARTA, Central Atlanta Progress, Southern Keyboards, the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Lanier Parking.

“This is a great opportunity for sponsors because we have such a diverse group of attendees,” Love said unabashedly. “It’s a family-friendly event.”

Love said that this year’s festival will have two stages with a variety of entertainers. She had hoped the festival could have had the money to have three stages, but she is pleased it will be the whole holiday weekend.

“This will be my 14th festival,” Love said. “When I joined the city, we got a significant amount of money from the hotel-motel tax.”

But that funding was decreased during the economic recession. Now the festival, which dates back to 1978, is receiving funding from the car rental tax.

“In the 35 years we’ve had the festival, we have had more than 10 million visitors to the city of Atlanta,” Mayor Kasim Reed said. “It brings people together from all walks of life.”

The mayor was particularly proud that the Atlanta Jazz Festival is “the largest free jazz event in the United States,” a title it has had for years.
“Atlanta has long been known for its arts and cultural offerings,” Reed said. “Great cities have great art.”

Isakson, Mosley to be honored

Two legendary leaders will be honored at the benefit dinner for the Glenn Pelham Foundation on Friday, April 20 at the Atlanta Biltmore.

The two honorees will be U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) and Sig Mosley, president of Imlay Investments, a leader in providing angel funding for start-up high-tech companies.

The Glenn Pelham Foundation, founded in 1987, helps inspire elementary and secondary school students and educators in diverse and under-served communities in debate education.

The foundation helps secure resources for debate education programs as a way to foster constructive dialogue, conflict resolution, critical thinking, literacy and communication skills, according to its executive director, John Hurlbut.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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