On the Map On the Waterfront

LMU's new college of osteopathic medicine is garnering national recognition for the small private school Gauging the progress of the South Knox plan

City Beat

Pete DeBusk leaned over to Dr. Ray Stowers at a MedPAC Commission gathering in Washington, D.C., three years ago and whispered: â“I want to build a college of osteopathic medicine at Lincoln Memorial University.â”

Stowers, a doctor from rural Oklahoma, wondered if the idea was even feasible for a private college in Harrogate, Tenn., much less, where they would get the money.

DeBusk, who is Chairman of the LMU Board of Trustees, an LMU graduate and a self-made millionaire, has a knack for persuasion, though. Not to mention a habit of backing up his words with the millions made from his Powell-based healthcare products manufacturing company, DeRoyal.

With the aid of DeBusk's finances and Stowers' acute knowledge of osteopathy, the whisper grew from an elusive idea into a tangible $25 million, 105,000-square-foot facility, which will officially open Aug. 1 to welcome the inaugural class of the Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM).

â“I got caught up in the fever of it,â” Stowers says of his transition from dean of rural medicine at Oklahoma State University to the vice president and dean of LMU-DCOM. â“I thought how exciting it would be to start a new college of medicine from the ground up, and do things the right way. This is a tremendous opportunity to come out and make a difference.â”

Besides having one of the largest colleges of nursing in the state, LMU will be the only college in Tennessee to offer a doctoral degree in osteopathic medicine. LMU received provisional accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association's Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation in September 2006, prompting more than 2,000 prospective students to apply for just 150 spots this fall.

Three months later the Commission of Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools elevated LMU from a Level IV to a Level V institution, making it one of only three private institutions in the state with the ability to award doctoral degrees.

But why osteopathic medicine and why at LMU?

â“The mission of osteopathic medicine and the mission of LMU are very similar,â” Stowers says. â“The practice of osteopathic medicine was started to help the underserved, and LMU's mission has always been the same: to serve the underserved of Appalachia.â”

Osteopathy, which emphasizes a more holistic approach to healthcare, was a phrase coined by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, who was an allopathically trained physician from Lee County, Va. He was a free-state leader during the Civil War and became disillusioned with the medical practices of the time period while serving as an army surgeon.

â“Still was impressed with all of the suffering and amputation that he saw during the war,â” Stowers says. â“He saw doctors using arsenic and performing blood letting; he felt there could and should be a better way.â”

Still based his new practice on the structure and function of the body, studying the ways each organ functions independently but also how it affects other parts of the body. One of the hallmarks of osteopathy is keeping patients healthy using medical and surgical procedures as sparingly as possible, with the goal being to prevent sickness rather than waiting until the patient contracts a virus or disease to begin treatment.

â“Osteopathy is looking at holistic healthcare. We treat all aspects of the patient and have a much broader prospective, which has become the very concept of American healthcare,â” Stowers says.

â“While osteopathic students can still specialize the same ways medical doctors can, osteopathic colleges don't allow students to specialize too quickly so they will be versed in all aspects of healthcare. Even if a student is going into cardiology, we make them do emergency room work.â”

Osteopathy is the fastest-growing medical practice in the country, and nearly 70 percent of those who graduate with a DO enter the field of primary care as opposed to less than 20 percent of MDs. Rural Appalachia has long been inadequate in terms of primary healthcare physicians, which is why DeBusk has been so intent on seeing an osteopathic medical school through to fruition.

â“The bottom line is I've lived with this thing,â” says DeBusk, who was born just miles from Still's home in Virginia. â“When I build something, I want it to be perfect. I can't stand the thought of this college not being the best in the country.

â“President Lincoln told General Howard that if he could ever do anything for these mountain people, he hoped he would, which is why we have LMU. I've always wanted something better for this area as well,â” continues DeBusk, who was also the main impetus behind the college of nursing in the 1970s. â“When I went to school at LMU, there weren't any doctors in the area and there still aren't many. But I think this school will breathe life into these mountains like you've never seen.â”

LMU's nursing program is its largest undergraduate program, and nearly 5,000 students have remained within a 75-mile radius of Harrogate to work after graduation. Stowers and DeBusk are targeting students from the East Tennessee region to attend LMU-DCOM with the hope that this trend will continue.

â“We're very interested in students from the Chattanooga and Knoxville area to try and fulfill our mission of getting general practitioners into the area,â” DeBusk says. â“The kids from North Carolina who can't go to Duke or Chapel Hill would fill this college up overnight. But we've got to take local people at first to fulfill our initial goal.â”

DeBusk is enthusiastic about what DCOM will mean for LMU in terms of national recognition. And he doesn't foresee a ceiling to the university's growth.

â“Within five years we'll have 5,000 students, and my wish is for LMU to be a small Duke University,â” DeBusk says. â“We've pretty much run off and left a lot of the other private institutions in the state.

â“We're proud that we're independent and don't have backing from any religious affiliation. All our money comes from private support. We run this school like a business.â” â" LaRue Cook

Nearly a year and half after the South Knox waterfront redevelopment plan was unveiled to a curious public at Kerbela Shriners Temple, it's difficult to say whether the ambitious 20-year project is right on schedule or running behind.

â“We're on schedule to the point that the city has control in the projects,â” says Knoxville City Chief Operating Officer Dave Hill. â“One thing we all want to see is new construction. But that's going to require that we remain patient as property owners decide when the timing is right to redevelop. I think the owners right now are trying to gauge the market, figure out how the plan has affected property values.â”

According to Hill, several of the city's planned expenditures, such as a project to shift Island Home Avenue by 30 to 50 feet to clear way for a private development, or a roundabout intersection on Sevier Avenue, are now in the planning stage. The city's operating budget for 2007/2008 earmarks $10.2 million specifically for waterfront public projects. â“I don't think we'll see any actual expenditure of public funds this year,â” says Hill. â“But we need that money in place so we have the financial capacity to enter into contracts to bid out or make agreements with private developers.â”

But private redevelopment effortsâ"which, by design, constitute the bulk of the redevelopment planâ"are coming more slowly. Two large projects have been in the works for some time: the Cityview residential development, and also a second residential development on Scottish Pike, a project that involves local developer Raja Jubran. According to Knoxville City Councilman Joe Hultquist, nearly 80 percent of the Cityview's first-phase residential units have already been presold.

Now a third project is in the works, a mixed-used development on the former site of the TransMontagne tank farm, a mixture of single family and multi-family units integrated with some retail space. That undertaking will be overseen by Camden Management, the Atlanta-based company also overseeing Cityview.

To date, those are the only announced large-scale private developments, although Hultquist promises that, â“There are other things in the works. I just don't know how much the people involved want those made public.â”

The redevelopment of a handful of properties currently under private ownershipâ"many of which are current or former industrial sitesâ"remains in question. Bill Baxter, owner of the former Holston Gas properties, has been vocal in his opposition to the redevelopment zone's form-based zoning codes, which govern zoning according to the physical specifications of structures rather than according to the type of development (residential, industrial, etc.) But Hill says Baxter has made other indications that he wants to â“consolidate his development options there, which says to me he clearly has an interest in moving forward.â”

Hill is less certain about the fate of properties owned by the Conley family, including Metro Pulse publisher Brian Conley. As to the property that is currently home to the Marathon industrial site, Hill says Marathon is still considering the viability of relocation. The company relies on barge traffic for deliveries of hot asphalt, and must find another suitable riverside outpost in order to relocate. â“They're probably not going any place soon,â” he says. â“We need to start in earnest helping them look for a suitable site.â”

In the meantime, Hill says the form-based zoning codes that so riled some property owners may undergo considerable revision in the coming years.

By statute, we have to provide a one-year assessment of the codes to city council in February of 2008,â” he says. â“If there are any problems with the code, I'm sure we'll be willing to look at it. And my sense is we'll come back and make assessments beyond just the one annual assessment required.

â“Whatever their concerns are, when the property owners start coming up with projects for development, we'll do whatever we can to facilitate.â” â" Mike Gibson

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