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Chancellor Collins: In Trump economy, federal research dollars must be protected

UMMS leader speaks to Worcester Business Journal Economic Forecast Forum

By Lisa M. Larson

UMass Medical School Communications

February 17, 2017
  Chancellor Michael F. Collins at the Worcester Business Journal Economic Forecast Forum on Thursday, Feb. 16.

Chancellor Michael F. Collins at the Worcester Business Journal Economic Forecast Forum on Thursday, Feb. 16
(Photo by Ron Bouley Photography)

UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care are the two top employers in Central Massachusetts, together employing nearly 20,000 people, and any federal policy changes made during the Trump administration that affect the school and hospital system will send huge ripples through the local economy, said Chancellor Michael F. Collins in an address to the Worcester Business Journal Economic Forecast Forum Feb. 16 at the Beechwood Hotel.

Chancellor Collins said he is particularly concerned about how campaign promises made by President Trump would affect the National Institutes of Health—the primary funding source of American medical research, including at UMass Medical School, ranked 29th in NIH funding out of 140 medical schools. Among medical schools, in New England, only Yale and Harvard bring in more NIH funding than UMMS, which had $143 million in NIH funds last year. Trump has promised to dramatically boost defense spending and to enact a $9 trillion tax reform package, the results of which could spell deep cuts to the NIH, Collins said.

“While I don’t expect the administration to take aim at the NIH directly, I’m very concerned that its other commitments and priorities will in effect squeeze the NIH,” Collins said. “I’m hopeful that as they consider these ideas, members of both parties will also consider how NIH investment improves human health, extends lives and helps drive innovation and economic growth. Research brings hope to the human condition.”

Meanwhile, according to Collins, Trump’s executive order on immigration, which temporarily banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, is already impacting the health and science world. The breadth of the order and the deep uncertainties about its future implications are causing talented physicians and scientists from all over the world—most certainly including Muslim majority countries, but also including others as well—to reconsider plans to pursue careers in the United States, he said.

“If other countries beat out the U.S. in terms of their willingness to invest in science and their willingness to welcome the talented researchers and physicians, it will have a dramatic impact upon some of our key economic sectors, most obviously including health care, life sciences and research,” he said.

UMMS is home to more than 1,300 individuals from 80 countries other than the U.S., not including those born in foreign countries who have become U.S. citizens. They are PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, resident physicians, faculty and scientists. Collins said two postdoctoral research positions were offered to applicants in one of the countries affected by the travel ban and at a minimum, their ability to obtain visas has been delayed. Similarly, UMMS employs six medical residents from the affected countries, who may not be able to renew or extend their visas to continue serving patients here.

“Doctors and scientists who are originally from these seven countries are making vital contributions every day in communities across our country, including right here in Worcester, where they research therapies for debilitating conditions like emphysema; conduct lifesaving organ transplants; and perform other vitally important services that benefit patients and families across our region,” Collins said.

The Worcester Business Journal Economic Forecast Forum, sponsored by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, is an annual event for local business leaders and academics to examine trends and indicators for the local, state and national economy. Karin Kimbrough, managing director and head of investment strategy at Bank of America; Timothy P.V. Mammen, chief financial officer and senior vice president of IPG Phototics; and Thomas White, professor of economics at Assumption College; each gave their assessment of the local economy and how it may be affected by changes at the federal level. John Chetro-Szivos, PhD, associate dean of the School of Professional Studies at Clark University, served as moderator.