A new health care policy institute — one that is expected to become one of the largest of its kind in the nation — will be established at the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Complex.

The Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation was approved May 19 by the University of Michigan Board of Regents. The Institute’s mission is to enhance the health and well-being of local, national and global populations through innovative, interdisciplinary health services research.

“The research done at our new institute will inform and influence public policy and enhance public and private efforts to improve the quality, safety, equity and affordability of health care services,” says James O. Woolliscroft, M.D., Dean of the University of Michigan Medical School and Lyle C. Roll professor of medicine.

Many UM researchers currently are involved in ground-breaking studies into the delivery of health care services, including support for patients with chronic conditions, insurance design and preventative care. But the NCRC offers a chance to bring them together, spark collaboration and seek public and private partners also interested in health care delivery.

More than 500 researchers could eventually join the new institute on the NCRC campus with many more engaging virtually, making it one of the nation’s largest concentrations of healthcare policy and services researchers.

“The promise of the NCRC, to provide space for co-location of investigators based on affinities, aligns perfectly with the vision for the institute in bringing together our accomplished health services investigators in shared space that will offer new opportunities for collaborations and innovative initiatives that might not have otherwise flourished,” says Woolliscroft.

A national search for a director for the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation will begin this spring. The new Institute will be an academic unit reporting to the Medical School and the director will report to Woolliscroft.

Eventually, the new Institute is expected to include members from the Medical School; the colleges of Literature, Science and the Arts, Engineering and Pharmacy; the schools of Nursing, Public Policy, Public Health and Dentistry; the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System; Arbor Research and others.

“We recognize the interdisciplinary nature of the challenges in health care delivery and believe this new approach will help us understand and address them effectively.¬† The work at the Institute will draw on a wide range of faculty expertise in fields such as law, economics, public policy, sociology, and management.¬† We anticipate innovative ideas for addressing these critical concerns,” said Phil Hanlon, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

NCRC offers an ideal location for the new Institute.

“Key to our strategy and mission at NCRC is the ability to bring our UM experts together in a shared space where they can work alongside their colleagues, collaborating on new ideas that will help people get well and stay well,” said David Canter, M.D., NCRC executive director. “This is a big issue that can’t be solved with just one type of researcher. We are blurring the departmental and school lines of the university, bringing together not only the best researchers, but also policymakers and private industry, to tackle a crucial issue.”

Shortly after the university announced plans to purchase the complex, formerly owned by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc., a faculty committee was formed to identify entities at UM that focused on health services research, said Thomas Schwenk, M.D., chair of UM’s Department of Family Medicine and professor of Family Medicine and Medical Education.

Schwenk said several faculty members from schools across campus have worked together to collect input and design the framework of the new Institute since those initial discussions in 2009.

“Forming this institute is an example of the collaborative work that we hope will continue and there are many, many people at this university who were involved,” said Schwenk, who chaired a committee assembled by Dean Woolliscroft to make recommendations on the mission, governance and organization of the institute. The committee will now be charged with identifying a national leader to direct the institute.

“There will be many advantages — logistical, physical and operational — for members of this institute to collaborate with each other, instead of working on their own. We hope and intend that these collaborations will spark the development of new approaches to health care,” says Schwenk, who adds this exciting arrangement will likely help UM attract more grant money for research, as well as attract new faculty members.

On May 19, the Board of Regents also approved a $13.7 million renovation project at a NCRC campus building to accommodate the new Institute.

The proposed renovations would upgrade Building 16, located on the northeast side of the campus. Renovations would take down walls and create more collaborative working space as well as bring the building up to safety and code standards. The renovation is expected to be complete in spring 2012, and the bulk of the researchers would move in after that project is complete.

About 100 researchers and staff expected to join the institute have already moved or are moving to the NCRC site, including faculty and staff from surgery, anesthesiology, urology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, psychiatry, ENT, emergency medicine and internal medicine, well as researchers from the Faculty Group Practice and investigators from the schools of public health and nursing.

The new Institute is just one of many initiatives ongoing at the complex, which includes 174 acres and 30 buildings. The university now has about 600 employees working at the site, where the mission is to bring UM scientists together with bright minds from industry, government and non-profits to solve major problems in human health, energy and advanced technology.

“The North Campus Research Complex is coming together in exciting ways, already spurring new collaborations like this new Institute. We know this property will continue to have major impact not just at UM, but also in Ann Arbor, the state of Michigan and worldwide,” said Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs and CEO of the UM Health System.

More information is available about NCRC at www.umncrc.org.

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