college of dental medicine

This artist’s rendering shows what a College of Dental Medicine will look like on the Joplin campus of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. COURTESY | KCU

Less than five months after announcing it will bring a dental school to Joplin, the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences is nearing its fundraising goal to make the new program a reality.

The university has secured 75% of its $40 million fundraising goal, which will make up half of the overall $80 million cost of construction of a new College of Dental Medicine on KCU's Joplin campus. Those pledges include $10 million from the Joplin Regional Medical School Alliance; $10 million from Harry M. Cornell, a former president and CEO of Leggett & Platt Inc.; $6 million from the Sunderland Foundation; and additional gifts from businessman Rudy Farber, physician Larry McIntire and the Farber Foundation.

The remaining $40 million has been pledged by KCU itself.

"KCU is very pleased to have reached this milestone so quickly and is grateful to these generous benefactors for their support of this important project," said Marc B. Hahn, president and CEO of the university, in a statement. "The Four-State Area faces an oral health care crisis and a troubling shortage of dentists. Through this new College of Dental Medicine, we hope to expand access to oral health care for those who need it most."

The College of Dental Medicine aims to meet a "critical need" for oral health care in underserved areas, KCU leaders say. Nearly all counties within a 125-mile radius of Joplin qualify as a dental health professional shortage area by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, and more than 750 dentists would be needed within that area to remove that designation.

"We know that oral health profoundly impacts systemic health," Hahn said. "Having a dental college physically located right next to a medical college provides a tremendous opportunity to integrate oral health into overall health to make the broadest impact and improve as many lives as possible."

One of the major donors, the Joplin Regional Medical School Alliance, previously raised $30 million to support the construction of KCU's College of Osteopathic Medicine in Joplin, which opened in 2017 in the former temporary Mercy Hospital. Donors to that group still have a "vital interest" in the university and its students, said McIntire, the alliance's president.

"KCU's recent invitation to assist with financial and other community support for development of a KCU College of Dental Medicine has been readily accepted as an important part of our mission," he said in a statement. "The success of the medical school contributes greatly to the confidence that a professional school of dentistry on the same campus will also be successful."

The $6 million grant from the Kansas City-area Sunderland Foundation will be commemorated with what will be known as the Sunderland Skyway Bridge, an elevated walkway connecting the College of Dental Medicine to the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

"We are happy to support an initiative that will result in people living healthier lives," said Kent Sunderland, president of the foundation's board of trustees, in a statement.

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Emily Younker is the managing editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.