Heritage College earns plaudits from legislators, governor for 40 years of service

Apr 21, 2016

State Rep. Debbie Phillips, right, presents Heritage College Executive Dean Kenneth Johnson, D.O., with a governor's proclamation.

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) - Ohio state Rep. Tom Fries knew back in 1975 he was doing the right thing in sponsoring House Bill 229, legislation that would create the state’s first college of osteopathic medicine at Ohio University. He knew the state badly needed more primary care physicians, and he believed that the proposed new medical school could go a long way toward supplying them. What he didn’t realize then was just how far the college would run with that mission over the next 40 years.

Fries, who ended a 14-year stint in the Ohio Legislature in 1984, returned to the Statehouse for a Founder’s Day event on Wednesday, April 20. Along with top leaders of the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, he stood front and center as the Legislature recognized the college for four decades of service to the state, with resolutions presented on the floors of both the House and Senate. Gov. John Kasich also recognized the college’s 40 th anniversary with a proclamation, in which he praised the school “for creating meaningful and lasting impact on generations of Ohio University students.”

Fries, who with then-Ohio Senate Finance Committee Chair Harry Meshel shepherded H.B. 229 to passage, recalled that the need for a medical college that would step up to fill Ohio’s shortage of primary care physicians was obvious.

“We had 1,200 osteopathic physicians in Ohio treating 80 percent of the population as family doctors and primary care physicians, and not one of them had been educated here in the state of Ohio,” he noted.

The growth and development of the college since its founding – and particularly in the last few years – has been remarkable, noted Executive Dean Johnson during an evening reception in the Statehouse Rotunda, where guests were serenaded by the Singing Men of Ohio.

“Four decades ago, 24 students walked onto Ohio University’s (Athens) campus into unfinished dormitories,” he told reception attendees. Four decades later, he said, the college welcomed 240 students across three campuses into the class of 2019 and has produced approximately 1,600 physicians for the state, most of whom practice in primary care.

One thing that hasn’t changed since 1975, Johnson told legislators, is the college’s mission to address health care shortages in a state where many counties are medically underserved.

Speaking at the reception, State Sen. Lou Gentile noted that 40 years is “a real milestone, and our expectation is that you’ll continue to do great work on behalf of patients all across the state, and prepare these students, these young people, to stay in Ohio and provide the primary care that’s so desperately needed in southeast Ohio and across the state.”

State Rep. Terry Johnson, an osteopathic physician and 1991 Heritage College alum, noted that he has sponsored new legislation designating April as Osteopathic Medicine Recognition Month in Ohio, which should take effect next year.

“On a day like today, I can’t tell you how proud I am to be an osteopathic physician,” he said. “On a day like today, I can’t tell you how good it is to have a Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in the state of Ohio.”

State Rep. Debbie Phillips told legislators that the Heritage College is “really doing great work to help increase the number of primary care docs throughout the state of Ohio.” In addition to training new physicians, she pointed out, the college is “also providing critically needed health care services in a region of the state that is often medically underserved” through programs such as its mobile clinic.

At the reception, Phillips added that she has also been deeply impressed by the fact that “many of the students at the college have a very clear and strong sense of service, a service ethic that people in the community see.”

Executive Dean Johnson recognized several longtime supporters for the critical role they have played in the college’s growth, including the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation, which awarded the college a transformational $105 million gift in 2011; OhioHealth and Cleveland Clinic, the college’s educational partners for the Dublin and Cleveland campuses, respectively; more than two dozen hospital partners throughout the state; the Ohio Osteopathic Association; and the Ohio University Board of Trustees.

First-year medical student Dajan Juric, who studies at the Heritage College, Cleveland, attended the reception with other members of the Heritage College Student Government Association from all three campuses. Juric said he has learned a lot about the college’s history during the ongoing 40 th anniversary celebration.

“I’m very proud to be here,” he said. “This is my dream school.”

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. CARE LEADS HERE.