OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — This is the house that Hal built.
But he's not done yet.
Chancellor Harold Maurer has transformed the University of Nebraska Medical Center into a modern teaching, research and clinical complex, its vibrant campus alive with gleaming new buildings and enhanced academic prowess.
And another transformation is rapidly approaching just over the horizon.
Maurer will leave his post as chancellor June 30 after almost 15 years at the helm to join the University of Nebraska Foundation and spearhead fundraising for a $370 million cancer research and treatment center that will lift UNMC into new territory.
"It will raise the bar for the whole campus," Maurer said last week during an hour-long interview in his office on a cloudy afternoon that promised more rain than it delivered.
"This will transform the campus into a community of outstanding clinicians, scientists and educators," Maurer said.
"It will move us from an excellent to an outstanding Medical Center."
With state government already having pledged $50 million to the project and assurances that the Med Center hospital can assume and rapidly liquidate $120 million in debt, the responsibility for raising the remaining $200 million rests in Maurer's hands.
He is the visionary and builder.
And he is the rainmaker.
Maurer already has raised more than $400 million for construction of new facilities all over the campus, including the Durham Research Center's two towers, a breakthrough advancement for UNMC that houses both scientists and the future.
The chancellor has tapped into Omaha's unusually large array of mega-wealthy philanthropists, many of whom tied their fortunes to Warren Buffett's wagon decades ago, some of whom are in the later years of their lives with eyes cast on both charity and legacy.
In the chancellor's dining room where no pictures hang on the walls and can act as distractions, Maurer enlists them as partners who will be fully engaged in the projects, promising to swiftly fulfill their visions and deliver on their dreams.
In some cases, he said, he's convinced it "keeps them alive."
With $400 million previously raised and another $200 million on his immediate radar screen — including $5 million in anticipated inheritance tax revenue from Douglas County and $35 million in requested cigarette tax revenue from the city of Omaha — Maurer is poised to shoot past the $600 million mark and then move beyond.
Already, he has "a couple of new ideas" percolating in his head.
Nope, won't say.
"I will share them privately with my successor to see if he or she wants to go there," Maurer said.
"A good leader is also a good follower. I will talk to the new chancellor first."
Maurer is a compact, intense, engaging, candid quote machine.
"How do we get better? I always ask."
"Don't be satisfied. We're not there yet."
"A good idea prevails. We'll find a way to make it happen."
"I have felt the sky's the limit. We have set our own goals."
"We can't be isolated in an ivory tower. We've got to be a community player. We need to participate with the big boys."
And so he has.
With Maurer piloting the ship, the Medical Center has become an economic force in Omaha.
The new cancer center translates into 1,200 employees sporting an average salary of more than $70,000 a year; the annual economic impact of the Medical Center was scored at $1.5 billion in 2005; think in terms of $2 billion now.
Asked about newspaper criticism directed at the center for seeking city and county funding assistance after the state ponied up $50 million — this was before Gov. Dave Heineman weighed in with some criticism of his own — Maurer said: "If Mercedes came in to build a plant, they'd be all over it. Give me a break."
Building the Medical Center's substantial research footprint is his legacy, Maurer said.
"It's on my tombstone," he said.
"I had to do a lot of convincing early on," Maurer said, making the case that research also paved the path to educational and clinical excellence.
Translational research leads "from the bench to the bedside," he said.
Big challenges lie ahead during Maurer's remaining months at the helm. And beyond.
The new health care reform law represents "dramatic change" that will alter the playing field, he said.
Nebraska needs to make a decision on whether to expand its Medicaid program with full federal funding of the expansion for three years, gradually dropping to 90 percent. A study undertaken by Dr. Jim Stimpson, director of the Center for Health Policy and a professor in the College of Public Health, seems to suggest that state participation is a no-brainer that would yield huge economic advantages for the state.
Meanwhile, a change in the composition of the Board of Regents after November's election raises the possibility that the university might once again have to fight a battle over whether to curtail or end its embryonic stem cell research.
"We do most of our research with adult stem cells," Maurer said. "But if we shut down embryonic research, no stem cell scientist will come to UNMC and any we already have here will leave. We would also lose graduate students.
"It would be damaging to the reputation of the Med Center nationally and internationally," he said.
What else looms ahead?
"A big challenge that worries me most is the corporatization of the academic medical center," Maurer said. A troubling trend, he said, is a growing tendency to turn to a business leader to operate an academic institution as a business.
"I think that's what worries me most," he said
Maurer plans to discuss that concern with University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken before the university begins to search in earnest for his successor.
An ongoing challenge, he said, is to "get our costs down."
"We're equivalent to a critical access hospital for the state, so we're very expensive. And that worries me."
A pediatric oncologist, Maurer was dean of the UNMC College of Medicine for five years before taking over as chancellor in December of 1998.
Maurer led the merger of University Hospital with Clarkson Hospital to form what now is known as The Nebraska Medical Center. The campus has tripled its external research funding and increased student enrollment from 3,000 to 3,600 under his watch.
Under his leadership, new programs have been developed in regenerative medicine, nanomedicine, drug delivery and bioterrorism preparedness. And new buildings have sprouted all over the campus during his tenure.
"It's been a lot of fun," Maurer said.
With more to come.
Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com