Jackson County Officials Propose New Medical Research Institute

UMKC, area hospitals announced plans to develop a “bench-to-bedside” medical research center on Hospital Hill. Jackson County officials hope to finance the project through a 20-year, half-cent sales tax. 

On Aug. 8, Jackson County business, civic and health care leaders held a press conference to formally announce their intent to build a world-class institute for translational research on Hospital Hill. Their goal: to bring roughly 200 new jobs to the community, generate $600 million in economic development during its first decade of operation and put Kansas City on the map for medical research and scientific breakthroughs. 

The general idea behind translational research – or “bench-to-bedside” research as it’s called in the medical community – is to convert basic scientific discoveries into practical applications, i.e., translating medical research into treatments and cures for diseases.  

A concept more than two years in the making, the proposed Jackson County institute for translational research would be developed and operated in collaboration among UMKC, Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, Saint Luke’s Health System and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute. Its primary fields of focus would be pediatric and geriatric medicine.

“We can make this region one of just a handful of communities in the U.S. – and really, the world – where a critical mass of talent, resources and opportunity establishes us as a contender for attracting the best and brightest clinicians, scientists and entrepreneurs in the medical field,” UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton says.

Boosting Kansas City’s medical research capabilities is one of KC Chamber’s “Big 5” Goals. “[The proposed institute] builds on valuable assets already in place, including Stowers, area hospitals and research centers like Children’s Mercy, Saint Luke’s, KU Medical Center, and UMKC,” says KC Chamber President and CEO Jim Heeter. “Coupled with Kansas City’s exceptional entrepreneurial spirit, we could become one of the national leaders in translational medicine.”

So, who’s going to foot the bill for the proposed medical research center?  Civic officials are hoping Jackson County taxpayers will step up to the plate. The institute would be financed through a half-cent, 20-year sales tax in Jackson County that would raise an estimated $40 million a year.

Under the plan, Children’s Mercy would get half of the tax revenue generated each year. Saint Luke’s and UMKC would each get 20 percent. The remaining 10 percent would go toward “research-related economic development initiatives” proposed by the institute’s board of directors, such as helping prepare Jackson County residents for health care and research jobs. The institute’s board of directors will be made up of chief executives of Children’s Mercy, Saint Luke’s, UMKC, the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute and one other noted individual selected by the chief executive of Children’s Mercy.

The sales tax will be presented to voters on the Nov. 5 ballot if approved by the Jackson County legislature this week. “If approved, this measure would benefit the health of every family in our community,” Heeter stresses. “It would also accelerate KC’s long-term growth and economic development.”

Photo courtesy of Janet Rogers, UMKC Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications