After a similar ceremony Wednesday on St. Thomas for the first English-speaking medical school in the Caribbean, officials broke ground Thursday for the school’s Simulation Center at the University of the Virgin Islands Albert Sheen Campus.
St. Croix’s Simulation Center will be a one-story building with 21,332 square feet and include a conference room, a 2,875 square foot surgical skills lab, an operating room, four training and four debriefing rooms, a 70-seat lecture hall, a dining hall and state-of-the-art simulation labs. There will be 2,300 square feet of office space for staff and visiting professors and physicians.
Rain showers did not dampen the enthusiasm of university and government officials who pledged their support and talked about the education and economic benefits of the School of Medicine at Thursday’s ceremony.
Dr. Benjamin Sachs, dean of the medical school, said the state-of the-art school would bring in $30 million revenue annually to the territory and fill 20,000 hotel rooms, according to a feasibility study.
He said the Simulation Center “will be one of very few buildings in the United States that can do this kind of training.”
Although $10 million is needed by summer, Sachs said the hardest part of fundraising – for the buildings – has been provided. Private donor, Chirinjeev Kathuri, a Chicago businessman, has pledged to make payments on a $30 million loan from First Bank.
Sen. Neville James said the 31st Legislature is committed to the medical school and building the Simulation Center on St. Croix is “not the short end of the stick.” He said the Senate recognizes the positive educational and economic aspects and “our commitment is unquestioned.”
John Harper, representing the UVI Foundation, said the foundation “supports the project firmly” after reviewing the plans, cost and potential revenue.
Simon Jones-Hendrickson, chief economic and fiscal policy advisor, speaking for Gov. Kenneth Mapp, said the medical school and Simulation Center will have cutting-edge technology and will provide a level of delivery to insure more residents seek health care in the territory.
“St. Croix will be the locus of development in the Virgin Islands,” Jones-Hendrickson said.
The School of Medicine is due to open in July 2017, provided the facility receives accreditation by the Liaison Committee for Medical Education.
The first application submitted to LCME was denied and the committee won’t accept another submission for a year.
UVI President David Hall announced the setback last October at a UVI board meeting and said the application was turned down for two reasons: UVI’s plan to master the University of Central Florida curriculum was not sufficient; and the university did not show progress in lowering the cost of the school.
He did not elaborate Thursday about overcoming those obstacles.
Hall said the second application is necessary to demonstrate to creditors the university is serious about building the School of Medicine and to keep the project moving forward. He said the application is “a bold and ambitious act” for “bold and ambitious” Virgin Islanders.
The application will be successful, he predicted, and the territory will have a medical school – “not if, but when.”