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VIDEO: University of New England Building New Medical School in Portland, Maine

Tue December 13, 2022 - Northeast Edition
Portland Press Herald & University of New England

The University of New England (UNE) has begun a $93 million project to build a 112,000-sq.-ft., four-story health sciences center in Portland, Maine, to allow the state's only medical school to move from its current Biddeford location.

The new Harold and Bibby Alfond Center for Health Sciences will allow UNE to combine its health programs at the Portland campus and expand enrollment, the Portland Press Herald reported. Currently, UNE's health programs are split between its Biddeford and Portland sites.

A ceremonial groundbreaking with UNE President James Herbert and other university officials was held Nov. 29 to kick off the construction in Portland.

Besides serving as the new home for the university's College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNE COM), UNE officials hope the new building will allow the medical school to increase its graduating classes from 165 to 200 students. In addition, one of the goals of the expanded school and the health program consolidation is to help alleviate shortages of physicians and other health care providers in Maine.

The Alfond Center will become home to all UNE's health profession programs, including the medical school, and programs in dentistry, physician assistant, nursing, social work, pharmacy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, dental hygiene and nursing anesthesia.

In an interview with the Press Herald in October, Herbert said that as Maine's sole medical school, UNE has an obligation to address the shortage of health care professionals.

"We are the [health care] workforce engine in the state," he explained, adding that one in three medical personnel in Maine is a UNE graduate.

The new construction also should build on the school's educational and research relationship with Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Construction of the Alfond Center was made possible by a $30 million donation from the Harold Alfond Foundation, the largest gift in UNE's history. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Maine's senior member in the Senate, secured another $5 million for the effort through federal appropriations.

The new health sciences building should open by June 1, 2024, according to the Portland news outlet.

Alfond Center to Help Address Healthcare Shortage

The university is Maine's largest educator of health professionals and the top provider of physicians to the state. Additionally, it is home to northern New England's only dental college, the college noted on its website.

At the groundbreaking, Herbert said that uniting UNE's variety of medical programs on a single footprint will create more opportunities for students to learn to work in teams, a practice known as interprofessional education, which has been shown to lead to improved outcomes for patients.

"Construction of this new building will allow us to admit more medical students each year, with state-of-the-art learning spaces where those students will get hands-on clinical experience and have the opportunity to learn alongside their peers in other health programs," explained Herbert. "When it is completed, it will be transformative for UNE, and transformative for the study and practice of medicine in Maine."

Since 1995, UNE has awarded more than 15,500 degrees in the health sciences program. Many of the university's graduates stay and work in Maine, where they tackle the health care needs of the state's rural and aging populations.

"There is a real shortage of physicians in Maine right now, especially in family practice, and especially in the outermost reaches of our largely rural state," said Jane Carreiro, dean of UNE COM.

"Our rapidly aging population makes access to a physician all the more critical for Maine's people. In response, we have steadily grown our COM class sizes in recent years, and we will expand further when our new facility is completed and we move to Portland."

Design features of the new facility will incorporate best practices in medical education and team-based learning, including flexible classrooms, superb technical capabilities and spaces designed to encourage collaboration and interaction.

UNE's Biddeford Campus also should see a benefit from the medical school's relocation as the move should enable the growth of current academic programs and the development of new initiatives via the labs and classrooms left vacant. It will also allow for growth of UNE's world-class research programs in biomedical sciences and marine programs, the college noted.

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