"I hear it all the time. People say, 'The Health Science Center is one of Memphis' best-kept secrets," complains Dr. Kennard D. Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operations Officer at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. "Well, we don't want to be the best-kept secret - we want to be one of the best-told stories."
Judging by the recent dramatic growth at UTHSC and the master plan that, under his guidance, will take it even further, he's taking the right steps to get UT noticed.
Recognized as one of the Memphis Business Journal's Healthcare Heroes of 2017, Brown earned that distinction by being one of the Memphis healthcare community's premier movers, shakers and cheerleaders. Like ripples in a pond, his initiatives for UTHSC are having far-reaching -- even global -- impact, and also serve to enhance Memphis' growing reputation as medical mecca and biotechnology leader.
His early career plans didn't include such ambitions. In fact, when the Chicago-born Brown came to Memphis after a stint in the Marine Corps and attended Southwest Tennessee Community College, he said, "I'm not sure that I appreciated then what UT was or what went on at the institution."
He started working in the UTHSC General Counsel's office while still a student at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at a time when there were "a fair number of discrimination cases" at UT. His recommendation that complaints that were promptly investigated on the administrative side might be resolved before they reached the litigation stage was well-received and earned him a five-year role as affirmative action officer.
After also completing his MPA at the University of Memphis, he was accepted into UT's PhD program and completed his doctorate in health outcomes research.
After 18 years with UTHSC, his task list as chief operations officer is long and broad in scope. Coordinating day-to-day administrative operations includes the most effort- and time-intensive part of his job - human resources.
"Management of staff, faculty and dealing with all the issues that arise in serving 3,500 to 4,000 people is a critical piece," he said. "Our facilities operation is probably a $25 million enterprise in and of itself, with 300 employees that do everything from construction to emptying the trash in people's offices."
Another especially demanding challenge is managing the West Tennessee Regional Forensics Center and the Shelby County Medical Examiner's Office, with its board-certified forensic pathologists and death investigators who work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Last year we dealt with a record number of homicides and overdoses, so that's a bit of a consuming role," he added.
The most rewarding of his responsibilities, however, is seeing the campus evolve and grow physically. Brown speaks enthusiastically of the strides already made, as well as those still in progresses.
The new $36.7 million Center for Healthcare Improvement and Patient Simulation - one of the few academic health centers of its kind, built for and totally dedicated to simulation training - is poised to come on-line soon.
The $16 million Plough Center for Sterile Drug Delivery Solutions is expected to be FDA commissioned within the first quarter of 2018, expanding UTHSC's manufacturing capabilities in the global pharmaceutical marketplace while developing a clinical trials network that expedites the development of new drugs--and potentially enables lifesaving new drugs to reach patients faster. The Plough Center will also enable 3D stem cell vascular bioprinting of grafts consisting of a patient's own cells.
"We've built a brand-new pharmacy building," he said, "and a new, $49 million Translational Research Building with 120,000 square feet of state-of-the-art research space that will be used by NIH-funded scientists researching everything from cancer to infectious diseases. Every time somebody's successful with a grant, every time we invent a new drug, the impact of that work isn't just local; it has national and international implications."
Brown has personally committed to global concerns as well, working with APEC (the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation) and the Plough Center on a pharmaceutical supply chain security project to insure that drugs that reach the worldwide pharmaceutical marketplace are genuine, not counterfeit or adulterated.
UTHSC's new phase of development will soon see construction of a College of Dentistry building, along with planning for a $200 million College of Medicine building to potentially occupy the site of the old Holiday Inn at Pauline and Madison.
"One of our biggest projects," Brown said, "is the development of the University of Tennessee Biotechnology Research Park, in conjunction with the Memphis Bioworks Foundation."
It will potentially be on property convenient to the UTHSC BSL-3 Regional Biocontainment laboratory, which he also manages.
Renovations to the Historic Quadrangle bear a $70 million price tag, but the project is already funded and in the initial phases of construction. "It's a phenomenal project!" he enthused, explaining that one building will be redesigned as a first-time home for the College of Nursing, and others similarly repurposed.
UTHSC is much more than just an academic institution, he suggested. "We're intimately involved in the clinical care paradigm of all our affiliated teaching hospitals."
UTHSC plays a significant role in staffing and practice plans as well, he said. "One hundred percent of the medical staff at Le Bonheur is jointly employed between UT and Le Bonheur Children's Hospital."
Similarly, UT provides 100 percent of the medical staff jointly employed at Regional One, and between 60 and 70 percent of Methodist University Hospital's staff are jointly employed by Methodist and UT.
"This community has a wonderful opportunity," he said, "predicated on collaboration between our health systems. Such collaboration affords us the luxury of training the next generation of healthcare practitioners to be the best they can be, and to work in partnership with physician organizations right here in Memphis. We would elicit the help of all of the hospitals, practice groups, sub-specialty groups, in keeping the best and brightest talent right here in Memphis. I think, as partners, we can do that."
Although a devoted husband and father to two grown sons, Brown enjoys occasional solo getaways on his beloved Harley-Davidson to Sturgis, Daytona and the Grand Canyon - especially the period of sensory deprivation such travel guarantees.