I was reading the local news the other day and I saw an interesting article:
In case the link goes dead, I will provide a summary. A few days ago, a local medical school broke ground and started official construction on a new teaching hospital. It had been having contractual disputes with it's teaching hospitals, The Methodist Hospital, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, so they decided to build their own hospital. The part of the story that really caught my eye was the price tag: 1 Billion Dollars. Does that amount sound familiar?
Baylor College of Medicine predicts it will cost about a billion dollars to build it's new teaching hospital, complete with faculty office space and out-patient clinics. They have raised about half of the billion dollars already, mostly through several very large donations from philanthropic individuals. Besides the hospital, the money will also fund multidisciplinary strategic initiatives such as genomic and regenerative medicine, faculty recruitment and student programs.
This news article gave me pause to think that the LDS church lost a great opportunity. As many of you know, the LDS church announced several years ago plans to renovate the downtown SLC malls that it owns. The predicted price tag was 1 billion dollars. (Current estimates are now between 2 and 2.5 billion dollars, but what’s a few extra billion among friends?) Why did the church opt to renovate and expand shopping malls when it had the chance to build a state of the art, modern medical center in downtown Salt Lake City?
The article cited above claims it can be done for roughly the same price as the initial cost estimates for the mall renovation. The church could have still included premium office space, since doctors need offices and out-patient clinics, it could have still included the premium residential space, the food courts, and the all-important Deseret Book outlet. The church claims it is doing the renovation to revitalize the downtown area. I think a medical complex would revitalize (literally!) the downtown area more than a couple of malls could. The jobs it would bring in, professional, white and “pink” collar jobs, would do more to diversify and strengthen the economy than several hundred minimum wage retail sales jobs could ever hope for.
Many members of the church in Utah bemoan the fact that BYU does not have a medical school. The church has the money for one, it has a highly rated law school, business school, and even a nursing school, so I’m sure they have the know-how and resources available to start a medical school. Maybe one of the reasons preventing a medical school is a lack of a teaching hospital. Well, a billion dollars can fix that problem.
Some may argue that the University of Utah already has a medical school. Ah, but competition breeds excellence. I think both BYU and the U of U would benefit in the long term if they both had medical schools.
The aging population needs medical care. As the baby boomers retire, the current health infrastructure will become strained, especially in Utah. New hospitals need to be built. The church lost an opportunity to be responsible stewards over it's money. Commercial enterprise will take care of itself, but in many cases, there needs to be a well-funded charitable organization behind the construction of a new hospital.
Also, in times of serious illness, death of loved ones, and at the birth of children, many people reflect on the life issues that religion tries to answer. What a great opportunity for increased numbers of interested Temple Square visitors a medical center across the street could bring in. Think of the missionary opportunities!
Finally, religions and churches have been sponsoring hospitals for ages. It’s one of the things they do. It fits for a church to build and fund a medical center. A mall? Eh, not so much.
Of course, the downside is that Russell M. Nelson, the only current apostle with an M.D., would probably be in charge. Why would that be bad? Apparently, he’s one of the last remaining doctors on the planet who does not understand DNA or evolution, as this quote shows, (found at http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=143)
Nelson: …. But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible.
Forum: Why is that?
Nelson: Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It's just the way genetics works.
I half expected him to add, "My grandpa wasn't a monkey, was yours?"