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For-Profit Medical School Plots $80 Million North St. Louis Facility

Ponce Health Sciences University announced plans Friday to construct an $80 million facility in north St. Louis and launch a doctor of medicine program.

The for-profit university is expected to break ground on the campus by the end of the year on the former site of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, near a proposed three-bed hospital. The campus could begin teaching students in 2022 if it gains accreditation this summer.

A few years ago, David Lenihan bought the university and became its president. Ponce Health Sciences University is based in Puerto Rico and has a small campus in St. Louis that currently offers a master of science in medical sciences.

Lenihan has a Ph.D. in neurosurgery and electrophysiology, and he’s a chiropractor. He calls the program a feeder program to medical schools. 

He said his goal is to help educate students from low-income backgrounds who didn’t make it into other medical schools. Annual tuition for the new four-year medical degree will be about $35,000. 

“We all know we have a [doctor] shortage. It’s not new, but no one seems to be able to find a solution. This is the solution,” he said.

Lenihan expects to enroll 600 students initially and hire 120 faculty and staff.

Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard, D-5th Ward, said educational and medical development are needed in the neighborhood.

“When you’re building a hospital on a footprint that was once the biggest federal debacle in the history of this country, as far as Pruitt-Igoe, then to come and build and create jobs and just create access to health care and access to education — that’s huge,” she said. 

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, was scheduled to speak at the press conference but had a scheduling conflict. 

In a statement, he said the project is significant to the city’s north side.

“North St. Louis suffers from significant health care disparities in access to both emergency and primary care, high rates of chronic illnesses and lower life expectancies than other parts of our region,” he said. “This is a worthy goal for which I will continue to advocate.”

NorthSide Regeneration hospital

The new medical university will sit on land owned by NorthSide Regeneration developer Paul McKee. The university will lease the new building, which is being designed and constructed by Clayco, and eventually own it.

McKee was recently given an August extension by the city to close on financing for a long-delayed three-bed hospital project. 

“We got the hospital financed; that’s done and over with, so now it’s just a matter of getting to closing,” he said Friday after the press conference. He said he expects the financing to close before the end of May.

Once the hospital is built, McKee said the hospital will seek a government license to accept patients using Medicare and Medicaid.

Lenihan said he is consulting on the hospital project but added that he is not on the payroll. 

He said the construction of his university doesn’t depend on the success of the hospital, but he wants to see it thrive.

“If the hospital gets developed there, which I 100% believe it will, then the students when they graduate will go there, do their residency. And we know that when a student graduates their residency program from a facility, almost all of them stay,” he said. 

Lenihan, a Republican, also recently announced his bid for Missouri’s 1st District Senate seat. Scott Sifton, a Democrat who currently holds the seat, is in his final term because of term limits.

Follow Corinne on Twitter:@corinnesusan

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Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.