Loh: Grad programs can learn from dentistry consolidations


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While the East and West Campuses are divided by a river, both are finding new ways to operate in the face of budget cuts.

In July 2009, most of the UI Hospital and Clinics’ family-dentistry program was moved from the hospital to the College of Dentistry, saving the program an estimated $200,000 this year.

Officials made the change to cut down on duplicate services, such as general dentistry and orthodontics, which were being offered at both locations.

While family and general dental care is still offered at UIHC, other services have found a new home in the College of Dentistry.

“Fifty years ago, you could have whatever programs you wanted,” said David Johnsen, the dean of the College of Dentistry. “Now, you have to take a hard look and see what you can do somewhere else.”

Across the river, some University of Iowa officials are dealing with similar challenges. After a task force released its report last week, 14 UI graduate programs will find themselves under the same pressures.

These graduate programs must be restructured, consolidated, or face being closed in an effort to save the University of Iowa money.

“The reasons for budget cuts may be different but our problems are the same,” Provost Wallace Loh said, comparing the graduate programs with the family-dentistry program. “They provide a service to the people of Iowa in the same way we provide education to our students.”

The UIHC family-dentistry program previously supported five faculty and 23 staff members — none of whom were laid off in the process.

“It was a very difficult process,” dentistry Professor David Drake said. “There was a lot of angst about losing jobs, integrating the programs, and dealing with spaceissues.”

John Keller, the UI Graduate College Dean and a dentistry professor, said clinical facilities in the dental school will be renovated to expand into land on the south and west of the building — located just between Carver-Hawkeye Arena and UIHC — in the coming years. Though the project is still in the early stages of planning, he said, it will offer needed additional space.

“Instead of saying ‘woe is us,’ we have to acknowledge these challenges and move forward,” he said.

Patients are still able to see their regular dentist or specialist, but the location of care may be different from previous visits. No dental services have been cut, only relocated, consolidated, or downsized.

The program’s savings come from lower rent in the dental school. While the facility still remains a part of the hospital, it takes up only half the space it previously did.

“I’m not saying what they did in dentistry would apply directly to our graduate programs,” Loh said. “But the part I think can be an example is coming together to think outside the box and get creative in order to save programs.”

He expects some announcements of what graduate programs propose to do in the coming weeks. In the end, it’s important to protect those involved with the programs, he said.

“It’s all about people — whether you’re talking about doctors or faculty, patients or students,” Loh said.

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