Big Sky Economic Development will continue its efforts with developers proposing a $78 million for-profit medical school on Billings West End, a day after the state's largest hospital, Billings Clinic, pulled out of the project.
Big Sky officials said in a Thursday news release that they've spoken with leaders of Rocky Vista University and Dr. Andy Sussman, the CEO of its parent company, Medforth Global Healthcare Education after Billings Clinic's announcement.
Those leaders assured Big Sky they would address concerns raised by Billings Clinic: that Rocky Vista representatives "cast aspersions" on a rival proposed nonprofit medical school in Great Falls for its Jewish heritage, noting that a Jewish school may not be able to assimilate well in Montana, and that they referred to a Billings Clinic female leader as a "token."
“There is much work to do today and the days ahead, but I am cautious and encouraged by the very honest dialogue, understanding of our concerns, and commitments to the actions necessary to build trust--as expressed by Dr. Sussman and others. The RVU team members shared deep regrets and in no way meant to hurt or disparage any group or individual. That is not who they are as a company, or as individuals, and they expressed that directly to me during our conversation," said Steve Arveschoug, director of Big Sky Economic Development.
Big Sky played a major role in attracting Rocky Vista to Billings, joining with the school Feb. 23 in announcing its proposed plans to build a 135,000-square-foot facility on a 12-acre campus off the intersection of Shiloh and Monad roads. The school would be called the Montana College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Big Sky officials said in the release that they met privately at the start with community leaders in Utah, where Rocky Vista is based, to discuss the school's commitment to its community. Based on those conversations, they believe the disparaging comments cited by Billings Clinic don't reflect what they heard about Rocky Vista.
If built, the Montana College of Osteopathic Medicine would provide a major training ground for workers entering into the osteopathic field in Billings. In its statement, Billings Clinic said they were also concerned about damaging relationships with other training schools across the region.
MTN News has also reached out to St. Vincent Healthcare, Billings' other hospital, and RiverStone Health, the county's public-health agency, for comment.
Billings Chamber of Commerce CEO John Brewer released a statement Wednesday night supporting Billings Clinic's "very difficult" decision, and he promised to work with other groups involved with the project to better understand what happened.