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LECOM rolls out plans for $52M dental college

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Florida’s third dental college is expected to open in Lakewood Ranch in 2012.

Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine plans to invest $52 million in the new facility, to be constructed just north of the existing LECOM campus, which houses osteopathic medicine and pharmacy students, officials announced Friday.

It’s envisioned that the first class would have 100 students, with a new class of 100 being added each year until a full enrollment of 400 is reached, officials said.

The dental college would eventually employ 200 faculty, administrative staff and dental hygienists, said Eric Basinger, executive director of the Manatee Economic Development Council, a division of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

LECOM is receiving $203,000 in performance-based incentive grants over four years, including a 50 percent reduction in impact fees, Basinger said.

The incentives would be paid based on the creation of 58 jobs, he said.

The close relationship of good oral health to a person’s overall health and a shortage of dentists in Florida and nationwide led LECOM to open the new dental school, said Robert Hirsch, dean of the dental school.

“The decrease of practicing dentists is most critical in under-served and low income areas where the population’s health is at risk,” Hirsch said.

A “silent epidemic” of oral disease affects seniors, various ethnic and racial groups, and indigent children, Hirsch said.

College dental clinics in the Bradenton area staffed by faculty and students should be able to treat as many as 600 under-served patients per day, LECOM officials said.

The Florida Commission for Independent Education has given provisional approval for the new dental college. Other dental colleges are operated by the University of Florida and Nova University in Fort Lauderdale.

LECOM is awaiting accreditation from the Commission of Dental Accreditation.

The Manatee County economy should benefit to the tune of $14 million, and as much as $35 million statewide through direct spending, according to press releases from LECOM and the Economic Development Council.

John McKay, of Bradenton, former president of the Florida Senate, was among the dignitaries attending Friday’s press conference.

LECOM’s growth has been “amazing,” and it’s hard to overstate the economic impact of the local campus, McKay said.

McKay said he was pleased that the dental school would also be offering care to those who are under-served, noting that LECOM already provides medical staffing at the Bill Galvano One-Stop Center, which serves Manatee’s homeless population.

Construction of the new dental college could start as soon as March, said Hirsch, who added that America faces not only a shortage of dentists, but the “graying of dentists.”

The need for dentists in Florida ranks near the top in the United States, Hirsch said.

“We hope the majority of our graduates will practice in under-served areas,” he said.

Patients who seek treatment from LECOM will have to meet certain criteria, and will receive a full exam and a program of treatment. Their care would be provided by students, supervised by faculty, Hirsch said.

“LECOM recognizes that dentists have become an integral team player in improving the health of their patients,” said Silvia M. Ferretti, provost and senior vice president of LECOM. “The role they play in preventive medicine corresponds with the osteopathic principals of total health care as taught by the College of Osteopathic Medicine and the School of Pharmacy.”

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