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Rounds: A message from the President and CEO of VUMC

May. 10, 2016, 1:08 PM

Dear Colleagues,

When we made the announcement in late 2014 that Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center would become separate legal and financial entities, there were of course many questions. We’ve done our best to answer those questions, and many more, and to keep everyone informed as we’ve worked to make this reorganization largely a “non-event” for as many of our people as possible. As we completed the reorganization last weekend, it was clear that the many teams working to make the conversion of our administrative systems as seamless as possible did an extraordinary job, and deserve all of our thanks.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.
Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.

A major “behind the scenes” activity over many months has been the refinancing of VUMC. The debt Vanderbilt University has long held on the Medical Center, primarily on our buildings, is now ours. To accomplish this, by analogy to meeting with a loan officer about a home mortgage, we have been working with a large number of institutional investors — regionally, nationally and worldwide. It was also necessary for VUMC to establish a credit rating. Much like each of us has a personal credit rating, a “FICO score,” we worked with Moody’s Investor Service and received an initial rating of “A3” for VUMC — a respectable score for a brand new credit making its debut on the financial stage.

During this process, I had the privilege of meeting with a diverse array of financial companies to tell our story. All respected the world-renowned Vanderbilt name. However, understanding “what we would be” as an independent entity required explanation. What would we really look like as a separate health care system? And what role would our world-renowned research and training programs play?

In these sessions, I found it most helpful to share examples. I often spoke of our Cancer Center, given its large scale (nearly one-third of our research grant support is cancer-related), although there are many examples. VUMC has the only National Cancer Institute-designated (NCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center in a multi-state area that includes Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi that is able to care for both adults and children. Patients from all over this region, and beyond, seek the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center for care when they need it most, and in no small part because they understand what Comprehensive NCI designation means — the most important discoveries made and brought to the bedside, clinical trials not available anywhere else, and clinical expertise that is unique in the region — all nurtured continuously by world-leading training programs that constantly improve and refresh our clinical capabilities.

Importantly, every five years, the NCI pays us a visit and “checks us out,” as part of a very substantial review process. To keep our NCI-designated comprehensive status, all of our core mission components must be objectively outstanding — the education and training of cancer specialists, the basic and translational science that brings the latest options to our patients, and clinical quality and service all must be at the very highest level in the nation. All three missions are fundamental to an NCI comprehensive center.

This kind of example led to “aha moments,” as financial institutions considered the merits of investing their capital in our future. Some already thought of us as a prestigious health system, others as an important research center, and still others as a leading training center. These illustrations helped them understand it is the sum of all three missions — wrapped together in synergy — that distinguishes us from the many other health care systems in our region.

The fact is, VUMC is an Academic Medical Center with a capital “A.” There is nothing like us in Tennessee, and only a few places have comparable depth and scope in the entire Southeastern region of the United States. So my case was this: when putting money into health care, choose the place where training, discovery and service to patients are harmonized — where the sum is far greater than the individual parts.

The results were overwhelming. Interest in VUMC from worldwide financial institutions far exceeded expectations, and provided us with attractive terms that allowed the launch of new VUMC on April 30, 2016, to proceed with confidence.

Talk about affirmation. It has never been so clear to me that our complexity — with all three missions working together — is fundamentally why we make such a difference. And that rich diversity, with learning, discovery and service all harmonizing like a symphony orchestra, is what our patients are banking on — not only with their financial resources, but as we experience here each and every day — with their lives.


Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.

President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

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