New medical school coming to University of Northern Colorado as state tries to solve workforce shortages


An artist’s rendering of University of Northern Colorado’s College of Osteopathic Medicine shows one possibility of the building’s design May 1, 2024. The college will become Colorado’s third medical school and is part of a $247 million legislative package geared toward expanding health care programs at higher education institutions across the state amid a severe workforce shortage. (Provided by UNC)


Colorado will create its third medical college — likely in 2026 — after Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will expand health care programs at higher education institutions across the state in a bid to overcome workforce shortages that worsened during and after the pandemic.

The College of Osteopathic Medicine, to be housed at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, is one of the major initiatives of the new law, which emerged from a bipartisan legislative proposal announced in February. The new medical college is part of a bipartisan package aimed at expanding health care programs at higher education institutions across Colorado.

The $247 million package under House Bill 1231 also includes the development of a Health Institute Tower at Metropolitan State University of Denver, construction of a veterinary health education complex by Colorado State University in Fort Collins and renovation and expansion of Trinidad State College’s valley campus main building to house all the school’s health care programs, including nursing .“With this investment, Colorado will train more world-class doctors, nurses, veterinarians and other health professionals to provide Coloradans with the care they  need,” Polis wrote in an emailed statement. “These new opportunities will attract students from Colorado and across the country to our communities, strengthening our healthcare workforce and supporting our economy.”

Lawmakers and education leaders have been shaping up plans for the projects at the four schools during the past three years, motivated largely by workforce shortages in hospitals and health care facilities. Those shortages grew as widespread burnout set in among health workers following long days on the job during the pandemic. While announcing the legislative proposal in February, Polis hit on a critical need for more medical professionals, particularly as Colorado’s population ages. Projections indicate shortages in health care fields are significant, including in nursing. Colorado will need an estimated 10,000 new nurses over the next decade.

The project includes tearing down the health sciences building that houses its nursing program and renovate and expand its main campus building, outfitting it to accommodate all health care programs, including nursing, medical assisting, dental assisting, EMT and paramedic.The expansion will make space for a student services center, where students — especially first-generation college students and those from low-income households — could find help for admissions, financial aid, academic advising, tutoring and registration. The project will be “transformational” for workforce development in the San Luis Valley, where dire shortages in positions like certified nursing assistants have forced nurses to take on additional work, according to Trinidad State College President Rhonda Epper.

Building up an adequate pipeline of health care workers in rural parts of the state is particularly challenging, Epper said. “It starts with having an educated workforce and helping students who are local see themselves in those career fields, exposing them to career opportunities that they might not otherwise consider and beginning that pathway early on when they’re in high school because we want to train our talent locally and keep our talent locally when they graduate,” she said.

Trinidad State College’s Alamosa campus is part of a statewide push to expand health care education programs at four higher education institutions across Colorado. A $22.6 million project at Trinidad State College will include an addition to an existing building as well as a renovation so that the community college can have more room to train students to become nurses, EMTs, dental assistants and medical assistants. (Provided by Trinidad State College) A $22.6 million project authorized by the state will allow Trinidad State College Valley Campus in Alamosa to be better situated to train more nurses and other health care workers. The college will receive $19.4 million from the legislation signed into law and about $3.2 million in state funds through controlled maintenance.

Additionally, the state will give MSU Denver about $50 million toward a $65 million project that will create a Health Institute Tower to prepare students for careers in nursing, behavioral health and psychology, among other health care disciplines.

CSU will receive $50 million in state funding as it eyes construction of a new $230 million Veterinary Health and Education Center at its Fort Collins campus. The university also plans to renovate the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital so the school can expand its veterinary services and train future veterinarians with more hands-on medical experiences.

Diversifying the state’s health care workforce in northern Colorado

The new medical school at UNC will accelerate the number of physicians ready to start providing care in state health care facilities, said UNC President Andy Feinstein.

Two medical schools in the state are “simply not enough to produce the number of doctors we’re going to need not only in the near future, but 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now,” Feinstein said.

The school will also help address the medical needs of northern Colorado along with rural stretches north and east of Weld County, he said.  “I think we’re located in an area that really can leverage our geographic proximity to many rural communities,” Feinstein said.

The university plans to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the new medical school facility in mid-September as part of its homecoming celebration. The new building will replace an old K-12 school on university grounds that served as a place for students pursuing teaching careers to work in classrooms. The school closed around 2000 and has been “underutilized,” according to Feinstein. UNC anticipates demolishing the K-12 school building by the fall. The goal is to have a new building ready for the university’s inaugural class of medical students in fall 2026, when 75 students will be eligible to enroll in the program. Over the following three years, classes of medical students will ramp up to 150 per year.

The university is in the process of being accredited by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation and is also reviewing proposals from nine national architectural design and build firms.

The project comes with an estimated price tag of $200 million, including about $128 million for the new building. Roughly $42 million will be set aside in an escrow account, which the university won’t be allowed to touch until after the first class of medical students graduates. Should the medical school fail, those funds would go to students to support their education at another school. Additionally, about $30 million is helping cover operating and planning costs, including hiring faculty and staff, Feinstein said. State funds will cover the building construction costs and money for the escrow account. UNC has also raised about $31 million on its own.

Feinstein said the projects at the four institutions will propel “transformative changes in health care and veterinary science.”

At UNC, where about 26% of students are Hispanic, those changes will also mean diversifying Colorado’s health care workforce and will build on the institution’s history of working to fill other critical shortage areas, such as teachers, Feinstein said.

“Now,” he said, “is an opportunity to meet another call.”

#   #   #

Article courtesy of Erica Breunlin @ Colorado Sun

Filed Under: CollegeEducationFeaturedHealthMedia ReleaseSchoolState


About the Author: