The University of South Florida plans to rename its medical school today after philanthropists Frank and Carol Morsani, whose $20 million donation to construct a new college of medicine is the largest in USF’s history.
The gift brings the couple’s contributions to health initiatives at USF to $37 million, which is why the medical school will bear their name. The Morsanis’ donations to the university now total $43 million, another record.
Their past donations have helped to build an outpatient medical clinic, a women’s softball stadium and a football practice complex, all at the main campus in north Tampa.
But the Morsani College of Medicine will leave a legacy like no other.
“This university, we feel, is on the cutting edge of making things happen,” said Frank Morsani, 80, who made his fortune on car dealerships and spent years trying to bring Major League Baseball to the Tampa Bay area.
USF officials intend to leverage the money into a $60 million campaign to replace the medical school’s four-decade-old facilities, seeking additional private donations and state funding. By late next year, they hope to break ground on a prominent building designed to encourage greater collaboration across the USF health professional schools in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health.
The donation comes at a critical juncture for USF’s medical school. Dean Stephen Klasko has been retooling the school’s ambitions in response to sweeping consolidation across the health care landscape and new competition from four medical schools created in Florida in recent years.
Klasko is backing away from an aggressive push to build a standalone hospital at USF, which he once saw as essential to bolstering its reputation in national rankings. Instead, he thinks the new building will bring students in closer contact with patients and build on recent successes in forging unorthodox partnerships to expand the medical school’s reach.
“Instead of saying, ‘Poor us, money is going down,’ we’re saying, ‘What an opportunity,’ ” Klasko said. “A $2 trillion (health care) industry is going through cataclysmic change.”
Although the Morsani name is not unfamiliar in charitable circles — it graces an outpatient medical clinic at USF, a lobby at the Tampa Museum of Art and a theater at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts — the couple said they were reluctant to have the medical school named in their honor.
“We’re not Donald Trump or those people that want their name on something. That’s never been why we have given a nickel to anything,” Frank Morsani said. “We hope this encourages others to say, ‘Let’s examine what we are going to do with our resources.’ ”
USF would join the ranks of 19 medical schools nationally that have been named after a donor, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, including the private University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
An undetermined portion of the Morsani donation will also launch the Klasko Institute for an Optimistic Future in Healthcare. The institute is envisioned as an incubator for ideas like USF’s alliance with the Villages retirement community to improve the health status of seniors.
But the $20 million donation mostly will help to replace the medical school’s outdated facilities, whose age and space limits were problem areas in its last accreditation review. Officials hope to begin construction late next year in space that has housed the outpatient medical clinics along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The $60 million, five- or six-story building will feature an open design, encouraging collaboration between students and educators in USF’s health-related disciplines, including the schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health.
Along with classrooms, lecture halls, auditoriums and a fitness center, the facility will house a full-time health clinic run by students to serve the uninsured for free, expanding on a service they now are able to offer only one evening a week.
“What we really want to be able to do is to teach, learn and provide care as part of our learning process,” said Dr. Alicia Monroe, vice dean for educational affairs at the medical school.
At many medical schools, she noted, the clinics where students interact with patients are isolated from the main classrooms. But with its new building, USF will have “real people coming in as part of the teaching process,” she added.
Leaders said their outdated medical facilities increasingly pose an obstacle to competing with the state’s four new medical colleges. And these newer schools received state building dollars not available to USF in recent years, said Klasko.
“We’re putting the ante on the table. We’ve gotten half the way there, if not more,” said Klasko, describing the pitch he will make to politicians in the Legislature: “We are one of your children also.”
Frank Morsani expects to be involved in the ongoing fundraising efforts for the medical school. Neither he nor his wife attended USF, but they feel strongly about supporting the community that helped them build their fortune. And both have been impressed by the impact of their past USF donations, including the outpatient medical clinic bearing their name.
“It’s not a difficult choice,” he said. “I’m going to give dollars not to make an incremental change but to make a transformative change throughout the community.”
St. Petersburg Times