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Welcome to the the Office of the President

Ashley River Tower Dedication

October 12, 2007


Mr. Chairman, members of the Board of Trustees, Secretary Thompson, distinguished guests, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends it is wonderful to be with you today and to have the opportunity to share a few remarks on this momentous occasion. It has been 52 years since the Medical University dedicated its first teaching hospital. I feel a certain bond with the original hospital since we both started life the same year. It is hard to escape the fact, however, that the hospital and I are beginning to show our age. While the hospital is reaching the end of its productive years, I am hoping not to be replaced with a new model for at least a few more years.

With the opening of this new hospital, the Ashley River Tower, MUSC is bringing tomorrow's medicine to South Carolina today. You don't have to be a medical expert to appreciate that fact – it is immediately evident to anyone looking at this building. At nearly 650,000 square feet, it is the largest single structure on the peninsula of Charleston. Now, I have been told that size is not everything, but personally, I stand in awe of the fact that nearly 11 million pounds of steel and over 80 million pounds of concrete are resting comfortably and with great stability on top of pluff mud. Over 2,000 pilings are making sure that this is not a mobile hospital unit.

Every detail of this project has been planned with the future in mind. We know, for example, that the population of this region is growing and aging dramatically. As a result, our existing health care resources already are stretched to their limits – virtually every day, we are confronted with a demand to care for more patients than our current facilities can accommodate. The Ashley River Tower will add 156 beds to our enterprise, an increase of roughly 25 per cent. We expect this additional capacity to be filled quickly, and for the demand for additional services to grow even more in the years ahead.

We have concentrated here on treating some of the most prevalent and serious medical conditions – heart, vascular and digestive diseases. These are the illnesses that are responsible for much of the excess mortality in our state. We believe that emerging technologies will dramatically improve clinical outcomes and that this hospital will be at the leading edge of the fight to eliminate health disparities in our population.

Ashley River Tower also was designed to co-locate outpatient and inpatient services. For both patients and providers, this is an efficient way to deliver care. Minimally invasive procedures will allow us to handle more interventions on an outpatient basis. The hospital can then focus on the most seriously ill, and we have expanded the intensive care component of this new facility.

This is the future of medicine – greater capacity to handle more patients, increased specialization, enhanced safety, greater standardization, and a wider range of more effective and less invasive interventions. It is completely fitting that the Medical University should be pioneering the way to tomorrow's health care, because we are leaders in biomedical research, education, and clinical innovation. If that claim seems immodest, perhaps a few illustrations will convince you that we are not completely lacking in humility.

MUSC was the first center in the state to perform open heart surgery, cardiac transplantation, pediatric cardiac surgery, and we have the only cardiology, cardiac electrophysiology and cardiothoracic surgery training programs in the state. Our cardiac transplantation program has the second best survival results of any program in the nation. In digestive disease care, we introduced a wide range of endoscopic and laparoscopic procedures for minimally invasive diagnosis and treatment. Increasingly, we are treating patients from across the Southeast and beyond.

The Medical University also has an increasingly prominent research profile. We are the only South Carolina university listed among the top 100 recipients of federal research funding. Even with a flat budget at the National Institutes of Health, our support from this leading funder of peer-reviewed health care research grew by more than 10 percent last year. This is an amazing accomplishment and a great credit to the productivity of our faculty.

Scientific work is progressing along the complete spectrum of research, from very fundamental science to investigations with direct clinical applications. Our ability to bring new discoveries from the laboratory bench to the patient's bedside means that patients here will benefit from the latest advances in diagnosis and treatment. The distance that one has to travel could not be shorter, as this facility is located directly across the street from the scientists working in Gazes Cardiac Research Institute. Many of those same scientists are also doctors who will be caring for patients in this facility. They are working on problems such as congestive heart failure, where they have developed potentially important markers of risk and prognosis. The Drug Discovery and Bioengineering Buildings, the next major research facilities to be constructed on campus, will be located a block away, where our researchers will be working on tissue engineering to repair the damage from heart attacks. In radiology, our researchers will be continuing their pioneering work on non-invasive imaging of the heart. In these and many other instances, Ashley River Tower will be the first place in which patients benefit from these new technologies.

As the leading educator of health care providers for the state, it is also reassuring to know that the practitioners of tomorrow will be trained in such a cutting edge facility. Here, they will gain familiarity with digital information systems that ultimately will transform the recording, storage and transmittal of medical information in the decades ahead. The day that this hospital opens, it will be a virtually digital hospital – not yet completely paperless, but as close to it as current technology permits.

Our residents and students will become apostles of these new technologies when they leave the Medical University, and they will create higher expectations in other health systems in which they work. We will see a wave of innovation that will propagate across all health care facilities in the state, raising the quality of health care delivered far beyond the beautiful glass curtain wall of this facility.

Today, we celebrate a landmark event in the 183 year history of the Medical University. As we look forward, we also look back with pride at the long tradition of excellence at this institution. Recent examples of national leaders in their chosen fields are Dr. Peter Gazes in cardiology, Dr. Fred Crawford in cardiothoracic surgery and Dr. Peter Cotton in digestive diseases. It is on the shoulders of these leaders that the Ashley River Tower has been built. We have every confidence that the tradition will continue and that the current and future leaders of American medicine will walk the halls of this new hospital.

The combination of outstanding faculty, staff and students with a premier facility is what will make the Ashley River Tower one of the best hospitals in the country. We salute the creativity and hard work of the more than 3,500 people who helped design and build this amazing structure and for their dedication, skill and compassion, we honor the thousands more who will work within it. Most importantly, we dedicate this hospital to the tens of thousands of patients who will be cared for here. From all over South Carolina and beyond, they will come to the Medical University with hope and great expectations. It is for those patients that we have labored so hard to make this dream a reality.

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It is now my great privilege to introduce our keynote speaker. Having served as the 19th Secretary for Health and Human Services for the United States, the Honorable Tommy Thompson, former Governor of Wisconsin, knows as much about health care as any person in America. During his service as Secretary from 2001 to 2005, Tommy Thompson led a number of remarkable initiatives. The Medicare Modernization Act was signed into law in December 2003, and for the first time, prescription drug benefits were provided to seniors through Medicare. On the research front, the plan to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health was completed under his leadership in 2003.

In 2004, Secretary Thompson launched a campaign for health information technology, advocating the adoption of electronic health records, such as the system that will be used in the Ashley River Tower. Perhaps the most significant accomplishment during his term as Secretary, however, was the increased attention paid to the public health infrastructure at home and abroad. In the United States, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent mailings of anthrax revealed that bioterrorism was a genuine threat and that we were ill prepared to deal with it. In order to address those deficits, more than a billion dollars per year was earmarked to public health infrastructure, primarily building capacity at the state and local level.

In an unprecedented effort to address public health issues abroad, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was organized as a multinational funding entity. The United States was the lead contributor and Secretary Thompson became its chair in 2003. An Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was launched that same year, with the goal of a five-year $15 billion commitment to fight AIDS. This is the largest single international health initiative in history, with the vision to treat 2 million HIV-infected persons, care for 10 million affected persons and their family members, and prevent 7 million new infections.

In light of his many contributions to health in this country and abroad, it is my great pleasure to present to you the Honorable Tommy Thompson as our keynote speaker today.