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OU-Tulsa dental care expansion
University of Oklahoma President Joe Harroz speaks during a meeting of the OU Board of Regents on Thursday, May 27, 2021. (Tres Savage)

While also discussing other developments in the health care arena, the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents approved an OU-Tulsa dental care program expansion during its meeting today. The effort to improve oral health care access and expand College of Dentistry capacity will feature the construction of a 5,800-square-foot dental clinic on the third floor of the OU Health Physicians Schusterman Center Clinic building in Tulsa.

The expansion adds OU’s four-year Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree program to the OU-Tulsa campus. OU’s College of Dentistry is headquartered at the Health Sciences Center campus in Oklahoma City, and program trains hygiene students located in Bartlesville, Ardmore and Weatherford as well.

OU Health and Sciences President and Provost Dr. Jason Sanders announced the expansion, saying the project is for both the “training of dental professionals [and a] commitment to access to oral health.”

The Tulsa expansion will feature 16 dental operatories, with completion expected and students enrolling in mid-2022.

“Oklahoma continues to be one of the lowest states when it comes to oral health,” said Dr. Raymond Cohlmia, dean of OU’s College of Dentistry. “By expanding to Tulsa, we feel that we can reach out to more and more Oklahomans that are in deep need of oral health care.”

Courses will be delivered in person, online and through a hybrid means of instruction.

“I’ve always stated that the great thing about the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry is that we have plenty of patients for the students to be able to treat,” Cohlmia said. “The bad news is that we have plenty of patients for students to treat.”

President Joe Harroz called the OU-Tulsa dental care program expansion a “first step” to improving health care for more populations.

“You start to see the beginnings of statewide health care,” Harroz said.

During his report to regents, Harroz praised several other health care efforts in which the university is involved. In June, the formation of OU Health as a fully integrated academic health center that aligns the operation of OU’s hospital system and its training programs.

Thanks to a new sales tax exemption for OU Health passed by the Legislature this spring, Harroz said the university will be adding 70 new medical residency slots and graduating 110 more nurses per year, as well as 15 new nurse practitioners.

Harroz praises lawmakers

Harroz also thanked the Legislature for providing:

  • $58 million to help address a backlog of endowed faculty chairmanship positions matched by private donations;
  • $10 million this fiscal year and next fiscal to support a “classified research” center in conjunction with Tinker Air Force Base and Fort Sill;
  • $5 million in workforce dollars in the realm of engineering education, which will fund 40 new faculty positions and 200 more graduates each year
  • $9.9 million for construction of an in-patient pediatric behavioral health unit at OU Health.

“It’s great. It’s needed,” Harroz said of the pediatric behavioral health center. “These children, who are in ranges of adolescence, would otherwise have to leave for treatment outside of the state. It’s that level of care.”

Other OU Board of Regents actions

The OU regents unanimously approved three items related to student housing Thursday, including a controversial Cross Village settlement with “bridge financing” provided by a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation. Regents also approved the authorization of $185 million in general revenue bonds that will then be used to buy the Cross Village property from the Chickasaw Nation.

Regents approved several other notable actions, including:

  • The selection of Michael Cawley as chairman of University of the Oklahoma Board of Regents, succeeding former regent Gary Pierson. Former Gov. Frank Keating was re-elected vice chairman;
  • A posthumous degree for Austin Taylor Romine, a student who died in March 2021;
  • A curriculum change to make a new diversity, equity and inclusion course not mandatory for freshman students owing to the passage of HB 1775 by the Oklahoma Legislature;
  • Changes to the Publications Board governing OU Student Media. A second OU Daily staff member will join the board, as well as an individual nominated by OU’s diversity and inclusion officer.