The University of Missouri says more than 90% of the state’s counties lack adequate access to health care professionals. School of Medicine Dean Patrick Delafontaine says the university has opened a Patient-Centered Care Learning Center in Columbia that aims to address a severe physician shortage.

Image obtained from MU Health’s Facebook page

A dedication ceremony on Friday signals the completion of the $42 million expansion, which has been a decade in the making.

“Our state and nation are in desperate need of more physicians to serve a growing elderly population, increasing numbers of patients living with chronic illnesses and many others now gaining access to health care,” says Delafontaine.

Missouri ranks among the top 20 states with residents older than age 65 who require additional medical care.

Delafontaine says the university received more than 2,300 medical school applications this year. An additional Springfield clinical campus and partnership between CoxHealth and Mercy Springfield also allows MU to expand its medical student class size by 30%, from 96 to 128.

“We believe this unique and innovative collaboration will serve as a model for other areas suffering from shortages of health care professionals,” says Delafontaine. “We are proud that the University of Missouri is leading the way on yet another major initiative to advance the health and economy of our state and nation.”

David Barbe of Mercy Springfield calls the number of primary care physician openings “embarrassing” in southwest Missouri’s rural communities.

“Many of the projections suggest as much as a 100,000 physician shortage over the next ten years,” says Barbe. “It is not just the absolute number of physicians we are short, it is the distribution of physicians.”

Barbe says the facility will have a major return on investment through things like the economy and many good-paying Missouri jobs.