KCU Announces Plans to Build a Dental School

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Kansas City University (KCU) is pursuing a college of dental medicine for its campus in Joplin, Missouri, to address the significant and growing oral health needs of the four-state region of southwest Missouri, northwest Arkansas, northeast Oklahoma, and southeast Kansas. 

In 2017, KCU established an additional medical school campus in Joplin to address the health needs of its rural area. Establishing a college of dental medicine aligns with KCU’s mission and builds upon its osteopathic foundation, which is rooted in a holistic philosophy of patient care, the university says.

“KCU has been successful in not only establishing a College of Osteopathic Medicine in Joplin, but continues to develop other programs that contribute to the overall health of the communities we serve,” said March B. Hahn, DO, president and CEO of KCU. 

“Our track record, combined with significant population health data and strong support from our Joplin community, gives us the confidence to move forward with this transformative project,” said Hahn. 

Nationally, KCU says, access to oral healthcare is a challenge in almost all rural areas. Nearly all of the counties within a 125-mile radius of Joplin qualify as Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (DHPSAs) by the US Health Resources and Services Administration.

Currently, there are only three dental schools in the four-state area. Yet Missouri needs 376 additional dentists to remove the DHPSA designation. Oklahoma needs 166 dentists, and both Arkansas and Kansas need more than 100 to address these shortages. 

Over the past 12 months, KCU has completed a feasibility study to assess regional needs, projected the economic impact of the program, identified funding sources, and begun designs for the facility. 

Also, KCU has hired James Koelbl, DDS, MS, to serve as vice provost for oral health initiatives and spearhead the program. Koelbl has begun pursuing accreditation and identifying strategic partnerships.

“We believe an innovative, community-based dental education program will help bridge the gap between medical and dental care and expand access to care for children and adults in the region,” said Koelbl.

“Our community-based plan for offering oral health services will ensure our students have the experience in providing comprehensive care to a large and diverse group of patients in the region,” said Koelbl.

The project’s anticipated cost of more than $80 million is twice that of KCU’s 2017 medical school expansion in Joplin. KCU has committed $40 million to funding this project, with the remainder from philanthropic efforts. 

As an economic driver for the multi-state region and the city of Joplin, the university expects the dental school to generate a financial impact of $45 million annually, support more than 200 jobs, and generate at least $1.7 million in state and local taxes. 

“Beyond the economic impact, there’s a significant investment in the lessons learned and the skills that will be offered in our community,” said Rudy Farber, chairman of Community Bank and Trust. 

“The tangible and intangible impacts are many and showcase the need for community support to help KCU achieve its goals,” said Farber.

With almost $20 million secured, KCU is halfway to its philanthropic goal. Donors include Harry Cornell, Sunderland Foundation of Kansas City, Rudy Farber, the Farber Foundation, and Larry McIntire, DO. 

KCU plans to break ground in 2020 and seat a class of 80 students in 2022.

“In our four-state region, the need and the opportunity to tackle the oral health crisis has never been greater. At KCU, we embrace both by identifying creative solutions, building partnerships, and training professionals to face today’s health issues head on,” said Hahn.

“With the support of generous donors and the broader community, we are in a unique and favorable position to help close this troubling gap and improve oral health outcomes for at-risk populations,” said Hahn.

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