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March 9, 2010 | last updated December 1, 2011 4:57 am
Portlandbiz

UNE president Ripich touts health care opportunities

Photo/Robert M. Cook
Photo/Robert M. Cook
UNE President Danielle Ripich speaks at the March 4 Eggs and Issues event

Danielle Ripich has been president of the University of New England in Biddeford since 2006, but she has already helped created thousands of new health care jobs she said are essential to Maine's economic future.

Ripich was the featured speaker at the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce's Eggs and Issues event on Thursday morning at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. She said her model of creating partnerships with area hospitals and public colleges is enabling more students to become doctors, nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists.

She said UNE's new College of Pharmacy and the future College of Dentistry, which Ripich hopes will be constructed on Stevens Avenue in Portland in 2012 or 2013, will help bring the state's health care costs down by supplying more health care workers to meeting demand.

"I'd like to say we're a private university with a public mission," Ripich told business leaders.

One of UNE's most ambitious plans is to create the new dental school in Portland and then have dental students in their final year of school spend up to six months training in health clinics around the state, Ripich said. The university has raised about $5 million of the $15 million to $17 million needed to create the new school. It will be located in existing buildings at UNE's Portland campus and enroll about 40 students a year.

Currently, health care is one of Maine's largest industries, employing more than 100,000 people, or 20% of the state's total employed work force. She said one out of every three jobs created in the future will be in health care and health care spending in Maine is estimated to be $5.5 billion, or 11% of the state's gross domestic product.

Ripich said applications at UNE from students who want to become physical therapists are up 59% this year. Applications for the school's College of Pharmacy and occupational therapy programs are both up 35%. Applications for the school's physical assistant program are up 23%. Overall, Ripich said graduate health professional applications are up 26% from last year.

Demand for health professional such as nurses continues to grow in Maine, Ripich said.

For example, Ripich said the Southern Maine Community College's nursing degree program has a waiting list of six semesters or three years.

Ripich also said the Maine is benefitting from UNE's growth in its health care-related programs. She said the university has a $440 million annual economic impact on Maine's economy. The school has 3,000 non-Maine residents enrolled who have 21,000 visitors each year who generate $6 million in spending for Maine businesses such as hotels, restaurants, retailers and others, Ripich said.

A study done by chief economist Chuck Lawton of Planning Decisions Inc. in South Portland shows one graduating UNE class of 125 physicians, 100 pharmacists and 40 dentists generates a lifetime earnings in Maine of $439 million.

"In the aggregate, we are contributing billions of dollars to the Maine economy and that is good for all of us," Ripich said.

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