With the funding secured and all the MedNex stakeholders in place, the city of Palm Coast hosted a ceremony Oct. 6 at City Hall to witness University of North Florida President David M. Szymanski sign a memorandum of understanding with Daytona State College President Tom LoBasso, demonstrating how the two institutions will work together to provide medical training for students in the region, centered in Palm Coast's Town Center.
“It’s a thrilling day,” Szymanski said.
The ambition is big: to build a national reputation for health care training and research.
Students could be taking online classes through MedNex as soon as January. A timeline for vertical construction has not been finalized, Szymanski said. Plans could expand if the state awards more money in coming years; UNF plans to ask for $6 million in each of the next three years, to go along with the $6 million it received this year.
Meanwhile, DSC moves forward with its nursing program, adding 60 nursing students to the Palm Coast campus next year, bringing the total to 728 in the DSC system. DSC will also be investing $3.4 million in capital improvements in Palm Coast.
The word on the stakeholders’ lips was “collaboration.”
It took many players to finalize the deal that will eventually become the Medical Nexus, or MedNex. UNF had to be willing to extend its footprint from its Jacksonville campus. State Sen. Travis and Rep. Paul Renner had to advocate for the first round of state funding, which then had to avoid the vetoes of Gov. Ron DeSantis. DSC had to be available as the pipeline for students for MedNex, which will help DSC students further their education. AdventHealth had to contribute its partnership to guide the direction of those MedNex graduates in to careers. Allete Energy had to help make the land available for the eventual facility.
And Mayor Milissa Holland and the city of Palm Coast had to be facilitators to keep them all on the same page. The city also voted to contribute $1.5 million in funding for the project.
Holland read a proclamation from the city, which stated: “The city of Palm Coast has strategically designated and planned for Palm Coast Town Center to become known nationally as a hub for medical technology, medical innovation and medical technology based economic activity.”
She stated that MedNex “is the nation's first comprehensive, university-based medical and health care nexus.”
After Holland addressed the room full of socially distanced elected officials and stakeholder representatives at City Hall, praising their “collaborative effort,” Florida House Rep. Paul Renner returned the praise back to Holland.
“I would be remiss not to note how much she played a critical role, and the City Council, really staying on top of this, and all the minutiae,” Renner said. “This is really a testament to what happens when we collaborate to bring transformative improvement to our community.”
Investment in education
Renner went on to say that MedNex will play a role in improving quality of health care, lower costs and improving access.
“Training respiratory therapists, which is something we talked about before COVID hit, how prescient was that,” Renner said. “ … You’re going to see Flagler County and the surrounding area become a leader in health care.”
Renner said MedNex is also significant because it will give local students a way to further their education locally, making them also more likely to live here permanently. That is the ultimate return on a K-12 education system, Szymanski said in agreement.
Hutson credited Renner will pushing the project at the state level. He also praised Holland for getting everybody “together in the same sandbox. … This is a huge project, and it’s just the start.”
“I have never seen so many people with different interests … make this a priority,” Hutson said.
Town Center's vision
City Councilman Jon Netts, who has lived in Palm Coast since 1992 and was on the City Council when Town Center was first formed as a development of regional impact, saw the Oct. 6 ceremony as part of the fulfillment of the vision of Town Center.
“This is really what it’s all about,” Netts said. "I’m so impressed with the fact that the mayors — plural — all supported this. Because this doesn’t just benefit Palm Coast. It’s good for the county, it’s good for the economy, it’s good for all of us. It’s access to quality health care.”
“UNF, Daytona State, AdventHealth — they’re all working together,” Netts added. “That’s unusual in this day and age. Usually we want to compete. Collaboration is a good thing."