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$1 Million Gift Boosts Health Sciences Impact

Sister Joan, Thomas Higgins and Sandra Cassady

October 2017


A $1 million gift will help create the Institute for Person-Centered Care at St. Ambrose University. The gift will also help launch a Master of Public Health degree program.

Donor Thomas Higgins - a former White House senior aide, 1967 graduate of St. Ambrose, and a member of the University Board of Trustees since 2008 - said he believes the complementary initiatives will help his alma mater build upon existing strengths in the College of Health and Human Services and position the University as a "thought leader" in a global effort to transform healthcare delivery.

The Institute will be the first of its kind in the Midwest and will place St. Ambrose and the Quad Cities healthcare community at the forefront of a growing movement to create a more collaborative approach to treating the "whole person" through an integrated team of healthcare professionals.

Working closely with regional health and social services stakeholders and coalitions such as the Quad City Health Initiative, the Institute for Person-Centered Care at St. Ambrose (IPCC) will provide education, support and leadership to create innovative person-centered delivery models that strengthen healthcare and social services regionally and beyond.

Leaders of both regional health systems said they welcome the opportunity to partner with the Institute.

"We are looking forward to working collaboratively with St. Ambrose to develop new and innovative models of patient-care delivery," said Doug Cropper, president and CEO of Genesis Health System. "This institute will be a national leader in helping healthcare focus on treating the ‘whole person.'"

Said Rick Seidler, president and CEO for UnityPoint Health-Trinity, "At the core of this plan is the commitment to improve the lives of people in the Quad Cities through a comprehensive program focused not just on the quality of their health but on their overall quality of life, as well. UnityPoint-Trinity is proud to be able to participate in this effort."

Sandra Cassady, PhD, vice president for strategic initiatives at St. Ambrose and dean of the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), said the university's health sciences programs are particularly well suited to build, test and improve integrative methodologies. That's because students in existing CHHS programs already work and learn in a collaborative, inter-professional environment.

The Master of Public Health (MPH) program will add to this collaborative approach and complement the Institute's efforts by graduating public health professionals prepared to enlist a multidisciplinary approach to influencing policy, fostering innovation and leading change in healthcare practice, both locally and globally.

St. Ambrose will be the third university in Iowa to offer a graduate degree in public health.

Both the IPCC and the MPH are made possible, in part, by Higgins' significant gift and determined leadership. A native of Springfield, Ill., he earned his St. Ambrose Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Leadership Studies and has built a successful entrepreneurial career around a passion for enriching lives by promoting better healthcare practices.

That passion first was kindled in 1971, when he was recruited to found and lead a drug abuse treatment clinic and rehabilitation center in downtown Davenport. He subsequently served three terms representing Davenport in the Iowa General Assembly, where he chaired the Health and Human Services Committee. Higgins became a senior executive for the United States Department of Health and Human Services in 1977 before being appointed to the White House senior staff of President Jimmy Carter in the role of deputy secretary to the cabinet.

Higgins has long been a leader in efforts to build a person-centered approach to healthcare practice, particularly in treating aging patients. He was the founding chair of The SCAN Foundation, an independent philanthropic organization that is focused on improving senior care support and services in America. For the past two decades, Higgins has been a board member for SCAN Health Plan, a non-profit Medicare HMO.

His leadership in creating the IPCC and MPH at St. Ambrose combines his interest in healthcare with a deep belief in the value of an education anchored by the Ambrosian core values of social justice and service to the most vulnerable members of our community.

"We are privileged to have such an innovative and generous person as Tom within our St. Ambrose community," said Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, president of the University. "His willingness to bring his resources and vision to our growing health sciences programs presents a wonderful opportunity for St. Ambrose to positively impact the wider community while preparing future healthcare industry leaders."

The Institute will build on the steady expansion of health and service-related programs in the CHHS, which was founded in 1987. Existing graduate-level degree programs include the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD), Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS), Master of Speech-Language Pathology (MSLP), Master of Social Work (MSW) and Master of Science in Exercise Physiology (MSEP).

St. Ambrose also offers two undergraduate nursing degrees along with degrees in psychology, sociology and exercise science, all of which can be pathways to careers as health professionals. Cassady said the CHHS is well positioned to assist in developing a person-centered healthcare model.

"We already have seen extensive collaboration among the program directors, faculty, staff and students," she noted. "This has resulted in numerous inter-professional learning opportunities, including case-based inter-professional courses, an inter-professional pro-bono clinic for underserved members of the QC community and numerous study abroad opportunities where students gain further appreciation for global health needs. The Master of Public Health will further strengthen our healthcare offerings and build opportunities for dual degrees at St. Ambrose." 

Higgins said other St. Ambrose degree programs such as the Doctor of Business Administration, Master of Business Administration, Master of Organizational Leadership and multiple undergraduate and graduate-level programs related to information technology also can contribute to the IPCC initiative.

The IPCC, he said, will provide St. Ambrose "an opportunity to create a brand identity for the College of Health and Human Services that is illustrative of real regional leadership.

"We are working with strengths we begin with - elements of the University where we have established credibility and excellence," he said. "Now, we're seeking to integrate those elements to make a really positive contribution to reforming healthcare delivery."

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