On the Ballot

Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Nov. 5 vote set on proposal to transform our region’s health

Jackson County voters will decide Nov. 5 if they want a world-class medical research institute that could transform the state of medical care, and the economy, of this region. If approved, the University of Missouri-Kansas City would be a partner in the institute.

The Jackson County Legislature voted 7-2 to put a proposed half-cent sales tax on the ballot. The tax would raise an estimated $40 million a year to attract world-class researchers, and to provide them with the equipment, facilities and support staff necessary to develop discoveries, treatments and cures. The tax would sunset in 20 years.

The proposed Jackson County institute for translational medicine is a collaboration among UMKC, Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, Saint Luke’s Health System and the Kansas City Life Sciences Institute.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with enormous potential not just with the creation of jobs and economic benefits but for life-saving cures,” said Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders. “This institute would position the county not just as a regional or national leader but as an international leader in medicine.”

The Jackson County institute would be located on Hospital Hill, near UMKC’s Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Health Studies and Pharmacy. UMKC’s translational research involves those schools as well as the Schools of Computing and Engineering, Biological Sciences and social sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Jackson County ranks in the lowest third in overall health outcomes among all counties in Missouri with numerous poor health indicators and unacceptable levels of premature death, according to County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a study between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute

“Voters have a rare opportunity to greatly improve their health, the health of their parents and the health of their children,” said UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton.  “With this initiative, UMKC can build on its internationally recognized research strengths to change the lives of so many people.”

UMKC medical research focuses on illnesses that affect children and the elderly, and that often have a disproportionate effect on minority populations. These chronic illnesses take lives, cause human suffering and are extremely expensive to treat. They include heart disease, asthma, diabetes, glaucoma, osteoporosis, musculoskeletal disease, obesity and addiction.

UMKC is a world leader in patient outcomes research in heart health. Cardiologist John Spertus, Lauer/Missouri Endowed Chair and Professor of Medicine at UMKC, serves as Clinical Director of Outcomes Research at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute. He has developed software that analyzes millions of patients’ responses to treatments. Spertus and collaborating researchers found how Americans are unnecessarily spending hundreds of millions of dollars on drug-coated stents that offer no medical advantage for these patients over less-expensive metal ones. If doctors reduced drug-coated stents in patients by half, it would save more than $200 million annually.

Applying Spertus’ software model to other diseases and conditions could help save many lives while reducing health care costs, said Lynda Bonewald, UMKC Vice Chancellor for Translational and Clinical Research.

Take osteoporosis, for example.  Bonewald directs the UMKC Center of Excellence in Dental and Musculoskeletal Tissues, which focuses on the study of bone diseases such as osteoporosis and other aging-related diseases such as sarcopenia, also known as “muscle-wasting” disease.

The most common bone disease is osteoporosis, which leads to fragile bones that break easily. Hip fractures account for 300,000 hospitalizations per year; 20 percent of those patients die within a year and 20 percent are relegated to long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

“Sixty percent of osteoporosis patients are not getting treatment and the likelihood of experiencing a fracture is currently greater than incidence of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined,” Bonewald said. “If the institute were created, it would provide the resources — the staff, the clinical trials, the equipment — to take the treatments we already know work and deliver them to more people – in Jackson County and around the world.”

“Osteoporosis is just one example. Think of what else it could do.”

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