The East Texas Medical Center Foundation will give the single largest contribution ever made in the region to help establish the proposed University of Texas medical school in Tyler.

Last week the UT System announced it will seek approval for a medical school in Tyler. On Wednesday the East Texas Medical Center Foundation announced an $80 million gift to help support the venture, which is aimed at significantly transforming health education, care and outcomes in the region.

The Foundation’s gift represents the largest single contribution ever made to establish a medical school in Texas and the largest gift made to an institution or organization in East Texas, according to a news release from the UT System.

Community, business and health care leaders and elected officials gathered at Willow Brook Country Club on Wednesday for the announcement.

“The Foundation board is honored to make this essential investment in our community,” said Elam Swann, chairman of the East Texas Medical Center Foundation board and a Tyler businessman and philanthropist. “At the core of a region’s vitality is its commitment to a healthy society. We have a desire and a responsibility to participate in that effort, and we hope our gift will inspire other individuals and organizations to participate.”

Because East Texas Medical Center was a nonprofit, the proceeds of the sale to UT/Ardent went back into the ETMC Foudnation, which enabled them to make such as large gift.

Kirk A. Calhoun, president of the UT Health Science Center at Tyler, described the gift as “monumental” for the East Texas region.

“The East Texas Medical Center Foundation’s commitment to advancing medicine in East Texas marks an unprecedented financial commitment and vote of confidence in our university, and for that, we are eternally grateful,” Calhoun said. “We pledge to be excellent stewards of this gift as we serve the community. This contribution supporting the operations of the proposed medical school will accelerate East Texas’ ascendancy as a destination of choice for medical school students, physicians and other health professionals to train and live; for families to remain and industries to locate; and to significantly improve patient outcomes.”

The UT System Board of Regents will vote whether to approve the authorization at their Feb. 26 meeting. Afterward, the UT System would work with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Legislature and other licensing and accrediting agencies to bring the school to fruition.

Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife, a former Tyler mayor and state senator, said the gift will show lawmakers that the community is committed to bringing this dream to fruition.

“Your gift means so much for UT and beyond,” Eltife said. “It will impact the region in countless positive ways that we cannot even capture today. We know it will expand opportunities for patients who need primary and specialty care, enhance the capacity of our local hospitals to treat and heal, and boost our economy and biomedical research capabilities, for starters. Moreover, a gift of this magnitude – so soon after our announcement – will allow UT to accelerate the launch of the medical school, benefitting all towns and communities in Northeast Texas – and will have a positive impact on all hospital systems here including UT Health East Texas, CHRISTUS and Baylor Scott & White. Your commitment represents the start of a whole new, promising era for a healthier Northeast Texas, and we could not be more grateful.”

In making its gift, the East Texas Medical Center Foundation expressed its profound interest in rural health care and mental and behavioral health, and it has asked UT Health Science Center at Tyler to place an emphasis on those issues.

“We are incredibly fortunate in our community to have this kind of support,” Eltife said.

UT Health Science Center at Tyler is rapidly expanding residency programs. It recently added three residency programs in general surgery, internal medicine, and a rural psychiatry program, now awaiting accreditation. Accompanying the growth of residency offerings, UT Health Science Center at Tyler is also adding more than 200 new residency slots within its new health system, UT Health East Texas. Because physicians tend to stay and practice within close proximity of the region where their education and training was received, the new medical school will serve as a catalyst to encourage physicians to remain in the community for the long term, according to the news release.

“This incredible gift, combined with the regents’ recent allocation of $95 million to construct two new health buildings in Tyler, represents an extraordinary, shared commitment to medical education and health care in East Texas that will fundamentally improve career opportunities and health outcomes for the region,” said James B. Milliken, chancellor of the UT System. “There is of course much work ahead, but our partnership with the East Texas Medical Center Foundation gives us all the head start we need to make our ambitious plans a reality. We stand committed to our shared vision, and I am convinced that together, we will be enormously successful.”

An analysis by the Perryman group showed that a medical school would have an economic impact of billions of dollars. A new medical school in Tyler is projected to produce an additional $1.9 billion annually, as well as the creation of 18,145 new jobs.

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on The Murder Tapes, Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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