In June 2023 the Shelby County Commission approved a plan to help fund $350 million worth of infrastructure upgrades at Regional One Health.

Regional One Health President and CEO Reginald Coopwood, MD, says the “ONE Campus” initiative would transform the hospital into an academic medical center in partnership with University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Facility improvements include new centers for women’s services, oncology, trauma care and more.

This article originally appeared in The Memphis Business Journal

Dr. Reginald Coopwood has a vision for Regional One Health.

The Shelby County Commission passed a wheel tax increase on Wednesday, June 28, as a way to help fund $350 million worth of upgrades for Regional One.

“I believe that we can have in Memphis a very strong, reputable academic medical center that fills all the complex needs and serves all individuals within this community,” Regional One Health President & CEO Reginald Coopwood, MD says.

But Coopwood, the hospital’s president and CEO since 2010, has his sights set on an even bigger goal.

He wants to build off the only adult Level 1 Trauma Center within 150 miles and transform it into an academic hospital, aligning itself with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).

There are a lot of steps to get there, and securing funding from the county was the very first of what Coopwood hopes is a long and transformative journey.

Securing initial financing, and what comes next

Coopwood believes that as a county hospital, it makes sense to begin Regional One’s journey with county support.

“Our proposal is that the county provides $350 million as the initial investment towards a new facility,” Coopwood said.

MBJ talked to Coopwood on June 9. At the time, the Shelby County Commission had rejected the wheel tax increase that would in part help pay for Regional One upgrades. But Coopwood was confident that funding would ultimately be secured.

Still, the county’s support is only a starting point according to Coopwood. The hospital is still crunching the numbers, but Coopwood said transforming its campus may cost in the $800 million range when the dust settles.

That money would go toward renovating and replacing the varying buildings and operations step by step, demolishing and rebuilding in phases to keep the key hospital running as upgrades come online.

Regional One has many buildings well past or approaching their planned lifespans — typically about 50 years for health care facilities. The primary buildings on Regional One’s campus range from 27 to 80 years old.

Regional One Health is the Mid-South’s only level-one trauma center. Part of the ONE Campus project would upgrade and expand trauma, critical care and emergency medicine facilities.

Construction on upgrades is still ages away, at least until mid-to-late 2024 according to Coopwood. But it’s already been settled what the county’s money will fund.

The first phase would be in two parts to replace the oldest facilities: a new tower that would house women’s care, infant care, and oncology services, and a new power plant to power the facility.

The second phase the county’s money would fund: After completion of the first phase, Regional One would build out new acute care, trauma, and emergency facilities.

Still, those phases are a ways away. As Regional One turns to securing the rest of its funding, it is also looking to align itself with UTHSC.

Turning to an academic medical center

An academic medical center is the alignment of a health care and educational institute to create one facility that serves as a hospital, educational, and research facility.

Academic medical centers make up some of the most prestigious institutions in medicine, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital (Harvard Medicine School), and the UNC Medical Center.

“Once we are able to get funding from the county, our goal is then to create a relationship with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in a new governance model of which UT and the state have governance responsibilities,” Coopwood said on June 9. “The new academic medical center that’s created will allow us to then go to the state to participate in funding.”

UTHSC is already an academic medical center, but it sends its graduates all over and doesn’t have a dedicated facility like Vanderbilt does. Bringing a dedicated academic medical center to Memphis could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and funding.

Vanderbilt got $376 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health in 2022. UTHSC received $61 million.

Regional One Health Cancer Care is the health system’s newest service line. ONE Campus would build state-of-the-art oncology facilities.

“That’s not because it’s Nashville versus Memphis, it’s because Vanderbilt has put in the infrastructure over the years to build a research infrastructure that allows them to pull down [that funding],” Coopwood said.

Coopwood said that an agreement between Regional One and UTHSC would bring a whole range of benefits beyond just funding.

For starters, it can be a major tool of recruitment of the best and brightest talent.

“We’ll be able to recruit doctors from around the country who want to come here,” Coopwood said.

“Our chairman of the Department of OB/GYN came here … and bought into the vision and what we’re trying to accomplish here with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center,” Coopwood continued, referring to Dr. John Schorge, who was recruited to Memphis from Tufts Medical Center in Boston in April 2022. “He’s building the OB/GYN program back to the prominence it once had. When you have enough physicians who want to be a part of that, it’s absolutely the growth of more doctors and nurses, and the economic multiplier is significant.”

Coopwood said that construction of the new facilities would also bring hundreds of jobs and lucrative work to contractors.

It can also allow Regional One to expand its offerings and grow as a hospital. Coopwood said that the hospital is starting on a long-term vision of change that will allow it to become something new.

“I believe that we can have in Memphis a very strong, reputable academic medical center that fills all the complex needs and serves all individuals within this community, providing them high-quality care that some people leave Memphis to get,” he said.

Coopwood said that Regional One would start working with the Tennessee Governor’s office and the state legislature in the next session to get the ball rolling. If all goes to plan, it would have secured some funding by the end of that session in 2024.

“We want to build something to elevate care in this community for all citizens; to leverage the expertise of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center; to be able to recruit some of the best and the brightest physicians, researchers, and clinicians from across the country; and to have something that really sets out as a draw for people — where, instead of people leaving Memphis for care, people come to Memphis for care,” Coopwood said.