Pharmacists could train in Asheville

Vote today could seal UNC-CH satellite program for western N.C.

Staff WriterApril 9, 2010 

— A UNC-Chapel Hill plan for a satellite pharmacy program in Asheville appears to have bested a competing proposal from UNC Greensboro.

A committee of the UNC system's Board of Governors recommended approval Thursday of a UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy request to establish a satellite program that would eventually produce about 40 pharmacists a year to work in Western North Carolina.

If approved by the full board today, the project would put the brakes on a far larger UNCG plan to create a new pharmacy school in downtown Greensboro. Committee members said the smaller proposal by UNC-CH, whose pharmacy program is one of the nation's best, made more sense than spending big on a new pharmacy school.

"We'll get far more bang for the buck by maximizing one of the top two [pharmacy] schools in the country," said James Deal, a committee member. "It makes perfect sense to me."

UNC-CH and UNC Asheville will work with Mission Hospital in Asheville to build the program. The program would be patterned on a similar distance-education project that UNC-CH's pharmacy school has run for about five years at Elizabeth City State University.

In the current economy, UNC system officials have shown little interest in spending big on new projects.

And the UNCG plan would be costly, requiring about $10 million in startup costs and an eventual new downtown Greensboro facility in the $50 million to $70 million range.

UNCG officials also said this week that private industry and community organizations in Greensboro have promised to pick up those costs.

UNCG Chancellor Linda Brady promoted her proposal Thursday as a way to reinvigorate the Triad. It would have a $234 million economic impact in its first 10 years and create 307 jobs.

But Erskine Bowles, the UNC system president, who recommended the UNC-CH plan, emphasized Thursday that the UNC system didn't need both initiatives.

Questions of need linger. A new report from UNC-CH's Sheps Center for Health Services Research has found that North Carolina, which for much of the last decade had a severe pharmacist shortage, now has as many as it needs except in rural parts of the state.

But officials from UNC-CH and the western part of the state argued that Asheville is one of those underserved areas. Buncombe County, where Asheville is located, has pledged $600,000 to help fund the UNC-CH program, and the local Chamber of Commerce promised a fundraising drive to kick in an additional $2.5 million.

Those contributions, coupled with tuition receipts, will guarantee the expansion won't cost taxpayers anything, Bowles said.

eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2008

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