October 25, 2010
It was déjà vu Wednesday when Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance made the blockbuster announcement that a gift of $10 million from the Hunt Family Foundation will kick start the development of a stand-alone, fully accredited, nursing school in El Paso.
The school will be named the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing. She is the wife of Woody Hunt, chairman of the Hunt Family Foundation and CEO of Hunt Companies, headquartered in El Paso. Leaders say they anticipate the school will have an enrollment of 500 students by 2015.
Last week’s ceremony was reminiscent of one held in 2007, when Western Refining CEO Paul Foster gave $50 million to the Texas Tech Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, leading it to become an accredited four-year institution in early 2008.
From there, local leaders began to envision a free-standing university campus whose leader answered directly to the top executive at Texas Tech. That happened this time last year.
Now, local leaders again look forward. Most pressing is getting funding for a third building to provide relief to the space-strapped med school, but after that, future plans also include establishing dental and pharmaceutical schools.
And it is all part of a broader plan, guided by the MCA Foundation, to develop a campus of medical facilities encompassing University Medical Center and the Foster med school.
Not to mention a biotech park, private medical research buildings, medical office buildings, expanded city health department and a building for non-profit groups to work on health-related issues.
The gift from the Hunt Foundation will cover the design and planning of the campus and allow the nursing school to increase its enrollment and hire faculty so that it can become a stand-alone, fully accredited school. As it stands now, the nursing school is part of the Lubbock-based Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.
But local leaders say getting the support of the Texas Legislature for the third med school building is most pressing and, with Texas’s deficit and the continuing national recession, it may not happen this legislative session.
“This university that we are creating is growing faster than we can gather state resources. Certainly it will be our number one priority in the next legislative session,” says Tech Regent Rick Francis, who is chair of Bank of the West.
In the meantime, Texas Tech is renting space from the private sector and using some of the med school’s existing facilities. Francis says they have rented a building across from St. Clement’s Church.
Francis’s message to legislators?
As one of the most underserved counties in Texas, there is a critical health care need here and the medical school and school of nursing will go a long way towards reduce that disparity.
Charles Miller is the med school’s associate dean of research. A juggling kit, complete with juggling balls and a book on how to juggle, sits on a shelf in his office. He says kits were given to several of the med school’s leaders by founding dean Dr. Jose Manuel de la Rosa.
They represent how the school is literally juggling space as it waits for a new building.
Miller has told El Paso Inc. that without more space they won’t be able to build the kind of prominent programs they would like and could lose the momentum that has driven some of the nation’s most prominent doctors and researchers to the school.
But Woody Hunt is optimistic that the building can become a reality, pointing out that in 2003 the school got its second building funded at a time when the state had a $10-billion shortfall.
He said he hopes the foundation’s donation will spur more private and public support, as Foster’s donation did.
“Nothing is impossible in this process if we have a community that is united behind the effort,” he says.
Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance says he expects it might be three or four years before they get a separate building for the nursing school funded.
“You give it another 10 to 20 years and this is going to be a tremendous asset for El Paso and, if my prediction is correct, it is also going to be the finest medical care facility between Houston and Las Angeles,” Hance says.
The Hunt Family Foundation also recently donated $5 million to the University of Texas at El Paso to support its Centennial Campaign. Hunt says Texas Tech’s nursing school will compliment UTEP’s burgeoning school of nursing not compete.
“I essentially got a commitment from both institutions to work together so it is not a duplicated effort,” he says. Adding, “My expectation will be cooperation and that they will compliment each other.”