Michael Tunkey
Michael Tunkey
July 9, 2019

Achieving Moonshots: How President Lorrie Clemo and D’Youville Are Reshaping Buffalo’s West Side, Economy and Future

Michael Tunkey
Michael Tunkey

Spend any amount of time with Dr. Lorrie Clemo, President of D’Youville College, and you’ll be impressed with her unwavering pursuit of positive change.

Through her work as an educator, administrator and leader, she is constantly empowering students, collaborators and their communities to forgo the status quo and reach for new heights.

Her vision and energy have driven the new Health Professions Hub that will open on D’Youville’s campus in early 2021. In the project, she saw an incredible opportunity to all at once help students seize jobs, nourish Buffalo’s West Side community, improve health outcomes and reshape significant portions of the city’s economy.

Three years since conceiving that bold vision for the project, Dr. Clemo has never wavered. Instead, she’s tirelessly engaged stakeholders, students and community members to ensure the project achieves every ounce of positive impact possible. Now as the project enters its final construction phases, we caught up with her to talk about what it can mean for the community, her leadership strategy and more.

When talking about the Health Professions Hub, you continuously call it a Moonshot project. Can you elaborate on what that means to you?

There’s so much potential in this project. For those not familiar with D’Youville College’s location and Buffalo’s West Side, this is one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the country. I believe there are more than 60 different languages spoken in the local school system, due to how many immigrants and refugees call this neighborhood home.

That diversity is incredible, but it’s woefully underserved. The community has issues with poverty (60% poverty rate), food insecurity, education resources to name just a few. Also, while nearly half of all adults in America have one or more chronic health conditions, those disease rates are even higher in the West Side of Buffalo. Health outcomes are statistically worse in the Buffalo region than other areas of New York State. Now at the same moment, Buffalo at large has looming talent shortages in medical education. When we began this project, data indicated the Buffalo Niagara region on page to have a shortage of 10,000 medical professionals by 2024. Also consider, 

The Health Professions Hub is a moonshot project because it can improve all of these conditions at once. It almost doubles the number of health professionals D’Youville will graduate annually, it provides needed healthcare services to the community, it can help students take jobs and support their families with living wages, it reduces our staffing shortages. Executing a project with this many meaningful goals is not easy, it’s a moonshot, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped us make this a reality.

Leading a project with that many dimensions, teammates and stakeholders has to be a challenge. Can you talk about your approach to leadership?

Leading complex projects like The Hub that involve many different stakeholders and constant dialogue and collaboration, these projects require transformational leadership akin to change processes. With The Hub, the tenets of this project are so new to healthcare education, health care delivery and to university-community relationships, it required a full strategic vision from day one. And then, months of staying committed to the process and social constructivism to unite the divergent stakeholders’ viewpoints and ideas.

Once the cultural change began to take hold, the challenge for me as a leader was to make sense of internal and external knowledge in a reflective way to advance the project. I embedded external change management and design expertise from CannonDesign, Steelcase, Catholic Health, as well as numerous higher education thought leaders into our project process. Their presence helped us leverage extensive knowledge and expertise as we fueled the project with innovation to frame and reframe its potential outcomes.

We’re currently living through a global pandemic. Do you think it will have lasting impact on how we educate tomorrow’s medical professionals? 

I certainly hope it does. As we move forward through and from the pandemic, we know the healthcare community must continue to deliver high-quality care. I think you’ll see increased focus on delivering consistently high-quality care to ALL patients. We have already begun to educate future health professionals today, with a strong culture focused on advancing social justice and health that will drive more equitable health outcomes The pandemic has clearly identified gaps in this regard and certain communities have suffered much more than others.

 

I also believe we’ll experience a shift in point-of-care, which our Hub is definitely designed to address. There will be more efforts to bring healthcare to patients: both in their neighborhoods and in their homes. More community-based care like neighborhood health centers, Telehealth, artificial intelligence, and greater use of medical technology like ECG devices and digital otoscopes will be more prevalent post pandemic. The Hub will provide our students the opportunity to train in these community-based settings where we also plan to grow health education to rural and at-home settings through our digital simulations.

This pandemic has indicated that we can’t return to normal. Normal wasn’t sustainable. We need sustainable solutions to improve health care affordability and population health, while enhancing care experience for individuals. These are critical issues that medical education must work to address if we hope to alleviate health care inequities. I am tremendously proud that D’Youville designed the Health Professions Hub to correct the problems that have been brought to the forefront by the pandemic. The good news is that we are only a few months away from opening our doors and having a replicable model that we can share with other communities as they look to best educate the next generation of healthcare workers prepared to combat tomorrow’s health challenges. 

This project is uniquely calibrated to the Buffalo region and D’Youville’s mission, but I’ve also heard you say it could be a roadmap for the state?

Absolutely It can be. Yes, specific aspects of this project wouldn’t be as relevant in other cities and communities, but the bigger picture around how you can use the strength of an academic institution to meet the needs of its surrounding community – every college should be striving for that kind of impact.

The idea of being a model for others to follow has always been key to the Health Professions Hub. We told Governor Cuomo that was our plan when we approached him about supporting this project. And, we’ve been archiving a playbook of everything we’ve done around community engagement, planning and more so others can replicate it across our state and beyond.

One of the great things this project will do is open itself up to the community more than other buildings on D’Youville’s campus. Can you talk about that and why it is important?

I’ve learned through this process just how “introverted” D’Youville’s architecture and campus layout has been historically, so I’m thrilled the Health Professions Hub takes a different approach. This building sits right on a major corner and is a better physical representation of our openness to the community. The design relies on glass, public art, street-facing components to make the exterior porous with Buffalo’s West Side.

This building is intended as a resource to Buffalo’s West Side, for health, for education, for opportunity. Inherently, you want to ensure resources of that significance are highly visible, accessible and engaging. That was our goal with this project and it’s becoming reality.

This project is essentially establishing a new paradigm for medical education. I’m curious what’s an important idea you’re uncovered or lesson you’ve learned creating the Health Professions Hub?

Where do I start? There have been many, many lessons along the journey. Most notably, as you mention, moving forward with a new paradigm for medical education where students will have an immersive and holistic training experience. All under one roof, The Hub provides didactic classroom instruction, interprofessional simulated learning, interprofessional clinical training, and an exciting opportunity to improve the health care process through innovative design-thinking engineering. 

In leading this project, I really came to understand more deeply what it takes to apply education to medicine, and just how great the need for that application. As we began our work and engagement processes, I saw how underserved and inequitable care was for our community.I know large populations of people living with undiagnosed diabetes and hypertension who primarily speak Spanish or Burmese or Somalie. When you look at a city like Buffalo, there are less clinics and comprehensive health services in its poorer neighborhoods. So we have populations with massive need and very few resources. Then, think about the workforce, there’s an opportunity for us to train a workforce that is not only more culturally responsive, but also that can practice right here in our community in the clinic that we have built. 

I think once I made the connection that applying education to medicine could help make healthcare more equitable, and that D’Youville could be at the forefront to more equally and equitably distribute health resources and professionals,  I couldn’t turn away.