SUNY Upstate expansion, beyond Syracuse campus

The Cancer Center, under construction near the main hospital, is one of many expansions underway at Upstate Medical Center

When the final beam for the new SUNY Upstate Cancer Center arrives on's one more piece in a major expansion that goes far beyond the downtown Syracuse Hospital.

SUNY Upstate is the biggest employer in the area, 93-hundred people, in an operation that goes far beyond the core campus.

SUNY Upstate Medical President Dr. David Smith says the geographical expansion is deliberate; "If you're going to grow enrollement and grow response, and ultimately launch more regional programs including more degree programs we're talking about, you need bigger footprints." No question the footprint is growing: besides the Cancer Research Center, the nearby Institute of Human Performance is adding room for more medical resarch. A couple blocks away, the Bio-accellerator building is nearing completion on Fayette Street, and the rest of the former housing complex site will hold new apartments, as well as, Smith hopes, a new urban grocery store. The old Harrison House Tower, next to Upstate's recently renovated high-rise dorm, will hold more student housing, not only medical students, but SUNY ESF students as well. Community General is also expanding: Smith says its useage is up 30% since becoming part of the Upstate system, with plans for more children's and geriatric services, as well as medical transitional facilities. It will also host the new Cord Blood Center, a $15-million dollar facility for stem cell research. Outside the Syracuse area, Jefferson Community College in Watertown hosts a new nurse practitioner in family mental health program, and Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca also hosts nursing programs.

All this, as the Medical Center is also working, successfully, at recruiting specialists in several areas, including neurosurgery, heart health, orthopedics, and cancer research.

Dr. Smith says the incoming next-fall medical class will have 160 positions, and they have close to 6-thousand applicants. "And we've developed a bias in selection toward Central New York, Canada to Pennsylvania, and also disproportionately to students from rural areas, and it has worked for us," says Smith. Worked, not only to fill the classes, but also to keep graduates here in the area. 800 doctors practicing in the area have their degrees from SUNY Upstate, confirming that the biggest element in addressing doctor shortages is training here. "We are New York State's doctors," says Smith.

And, the expansion is not done. There are plans to build a new academic building in the core campus, which will house the college of nursing as well as a new 'simulation center' with high-tech mannequins to be used for teaching in several medical disciplines.

And Smith wants to grow the medical school enrollement by 30%, once NY State support issues are sorted out.

The fight over the budget will escalate over the next couple weeks. The 3 SUNY schools (Upstate, Downstate and Stonybrook) had $90 million in the budget proposal for hospital support, but it's seen $30 million cut in the Governor's proposal. Smith points out it's continuing erosion, that a couple years ago the total was $200-million. State support has dropped from 18% to 6.5% of SUNY Upstate's $1.4Billion budget. The Hospital itself runs on 2% state support, and Smith says that covers burn and trauma and other lifenet services.

The questions about state funding have also contributed to a more conservative look at hospital employment: Smith hopes there won't be layoffs, but says if funding is not restored, there could be attrition and maybe job freezes. He hopes not:

"The more dynamic all of us make Syracuse, the easier it is for me to recruit here. So I have a real vested interest in not wanting to see momentum lost."

Click i on the video tab for an extended interview with SUNY Upstate Medical President Dr. David Smith.