For nearly five years, Northern Kentucky University officials lobbied state legislators to include money in the budget to build its Health Innovation Center on the school’s campus.

Then, in April 2014, Northern Kentucky University President Geoffrey S. Mearns finally learned that the Kentucky General Assembly had approved a budget with $97 million to build the Health Innovation Center.

Mearns was in bed when he got a phone call from a colleague about 4:30 a.m. confirming the state’s budget had allocated the money for a renovated Founders Hall and the new Health Innovation Center. “I wasn’t able to jump, but I certainly was pretty excited,” he says.

Now that construction on the new 95,492-square-foot Health Innovation Center and the 111,639-square-foot renovation of Founders Hall is underway on a 2.2-acre site, Mearns says he’s eager to get started on the academic instruction that will happen inside the building when the project is completed in 2018.

“We’re even more excited about what we propose to do in that building,” he says.

What the university proposes to do is house the College of Health Professions and expand and develop programs to prepare the region’s future health care professionals with a variety of trans-disciplinary academic programs.

“We are going to create a facility that promotes inter-professional training of the next generation of health care professionals,” Mearns says. Programs from across the university, including nursing, psychology, data analytics and others, will be included in the Health Innovation Center.

“The future of health care is all about a team-based, inter-professional approach to patient care and patient wellness,” Mearns says. It’s important for students from different programs to learn to work together while they are in college, he says, because they’ll be expected to work in inter-professional teams when they are in the workforce. “We believe they should be trained that way as well,” Mearns says.

One of the university’s programs that will be incorporated into the Health Innovation Center is the College of Informatics. 

“Our campus has had a long history in promoting innovative and trans-disciplinary education,” Mearns says. “The perfect example is our College of Informatics. And so this is building on that tradition and incorporating it into the education and training of health care professionals.”

Another emphasis in the Health Innovation Center will be simulation and experiential learning opportunities, he says. That will include high-tech, real-world learning experiences such as mannequins that can be programmed to simulate various medical emergencies, laboratories that simulate an operating room and exam rooms to evaluate patients.

“Simulation learning in the health care profession is the cutting edge of health care education,” says Mearns. “It’s been around for awhile, but I think what we’re going to do in terms of the sophisticated nature of it and the expansive nature of it is pretty special.”

St. Elizabeth Healthcare believes the Health Innovation Center is also special, so much so that it’s gifted $8 million during the next 20 years to the university to support the design and construction of the simulation facilities, including the two-story virtual care environment. The simulation area will be named the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Simulation Center.

Garren Colvin, St. Elizabeth Healthcare president and CEO, says the educational opportunities for students in the health care fields will be top notch at the new Health Innovation Center.

“If you look at the technology of the simulation center and having the capacity for that level of training to take place, that in and of itself is going to be something that’s going to be significant for the students who are going to be able to graduate coming through that program,” says Colvin. 

More importantly, he says, is the Health Innovation Center will help improve the community’s health. “This Health Innovation Center will make our patient care better down the road,” Colvin says. “It will allow us to have better associates, better trained associates, coming right out of school.”

The Health Innovation Center will also allow local employers in the health care profession to have access to more graduates. That’s because now Northern Kentucky University must turn away nearly 400 health care applicants each year due to a lack of available space.

The popularity of Northern Kentucky University’s nursing and allied health disciplines has exploded in recent years, with more than 100 percent growth in enrollment in seven years. About 1,500 students are now enrolled in the nursing/allied health program.

But the Health Innovation Center is not just about training future health care workers. The combination of the university’s six colleges working together in the building will conduct research and possibly create solutions to the community’s health issues, such as chronic illness like diabetes or addiction.

Part of the Health Innovation Center’s mission will be to help understand why people make certain health care choices. “A very high percentage of the annual cost of health care in the United States is necessary to treat systemic conditions that are the product of human choice so we want to understand why it is that we make certain choices about our health and our wellness,” says Mearns. “So that will be one important aspect of how we bring other disciplines into this environment.”

Some of the areas of emphasis of future research at the health innovation center include consumer health initiatives, workplace wellness/productivity management, decision science/human resource support/consumer-driven health insurance and applied brain research/drug delivery and toxicity/nano technology. 

“It’s not only an opportunity for us to educate and train the next generation of health care professionals, but because of the way that they will be educated and trained this facility will have a significant positive impact on the health of the community that we serve,” Mearns says.

St. Elizabeth is proud to be a part of that positive impact on the health of the community, says Colvin. 

“I just think that this is just another example of St. Elizabeth partnering with members of our community to make Northern Kentucky a better place to live,” he says.