Assemblymember Gray, Gov. Newsom mark their commitment to UC Merced med school

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Merced –The emotion in Assemblyman Adam Gray’s voice was clear Monday when he turned to Gov. Gavin Newsom and said, “Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

The Governor was in Merced to announce a state commitment of roughly $210 million to build a medical education building at the University of Merced campus. The Behavioral Sciences and Medical Education Building is a crucial precursor to establishing a full-fledged medical school. It will house the departments of Psychological Sciences, Public Health, the university’s medical education program, and the Health Sciences Research Institute.

The announcement was made before some 80 people, including the media and many of the region’s elected officials – Gray, state Senator Anna Caballero, and U.S. Representative Jim Costa, along with many Merced County and city officials. Also on hand were former state senators Anthony Cannella and Cathleen Galgiani and former Assemblyman Rusty Areias.

UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sanchez Muñoz noted that he began hearing about the dream of a medical school from the moment he arrived on the UC Merced campus in May 2020 – especially from Merced native Gray.

“He was one of the very first to reach out to me and make very clear to me his expectations,” said Muñoz. “He has made a valley medical school a cornerstone of his time in the legislature. He has worked tirelessly with the governor to secure the funding for this facility. … We don’t have anyone more committed than (Assemblymember) Gray.”

Gray recalled the years-long struggle to realize a medical school for the Valley.

“When I arrived in the legislature in 2012, I was told, ‘That dream is dead; we built the campus and that’s what we’re focused on; that’s what we have the money for,’ ” Gray said. “But the folks in this room didn’t let that dream die.”

Gray commissioned a study focused on access to medical care throughout California. It found gaping disparities between the number of doctors, specialists and medical workers in cities and those serving rural California.

For every 100,000 rural California residents, there were 157 doctors compared to 411 doctors per 100,000 San Francisco residents. In Merced County, the numbers were far worse -- just 91 doctors per 100,000 residents, or nearly 80% fewer doctors than the Bay Area. The study found similar shortages of nurses, medical technicians and therapists.

The reaction to such numbers was predictable, said Gray. “Here in the Valley, we’ve got a little chip on our shoulder.”

Newsom said he admired that approach. “I like this notion of having a chip on your shoulder. … But there is also pride in the Valley; pride of place … that’s something you can’t legislate, you can’t manufacture.”

Now, he said, it’s time to address the problem.

“You heard from all the speakers about the glaring inequities that persist out here in the Valley,” said Newsom. “The ongoing advocacy, that stewardship, that leadership is what made this possible. I want to acknowledge not only their stewardship but also their devotion.

“Jim, Anna and Adam – they all have my cell phone. If you could just see the amount of emails and text messages that I get from them about this medical school, this university. They just won’t give up. That tenacity is the reason we are here.”

Muñoz said the construction of the building enables the university to begin preparations for the medical school by hiring faculty and creating courses. UC Merced will enroll its first class of future doctors in 2023.

“It’s not just about building these buildings and teaching the classes,” said Gray. “It’s about making lives better for everyone.”