About 150 health-care, community and state leaders and other invited guests celebrated the recent opening of the new headquarters for the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron during a ceremony and tour Friday at the facility.

The BioInnovation Institute is a partnership among the city’s three hospital systems, the University of Akron and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The institute pulls together the University of Akron’s polymer-science knowledge, the medical college’s musculoskeletal and research expertise and the strength in orthopedics, wound healing and other clinical areas at Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron General and Summa health systems.

“Because of the belief in the power of collaboration, we've done something here in town that is truly magical,” said William Considine, president and chief executive of Children's and the BioInnovation Institute’s board chair. “ ... We've been recognized around the county now as a center for entrepreneurship and innovation.”

The opening this summer of the $13.3 million headquarters at 47 N. Main St. in downtown Akron is considered a pivotal step in the partnership’s attempt to expand the local economy through medical-related research, education and commercialization while also working to improve the health of area residents.

“At the end of the day, we want to be contributing to jobs, spinning out companies and reducing the burden of disease,” said Dr. Frank L. Douglas, the BioInnovation Institute’s president and chief executive.

During Friday’s event, attendees watched a mock disaster unfold in the institute’s simulation center.

The simulation center allows students, medical professionals and others to train together in a mock operating room, emergency department, intensive-care unit or obstetrical unit with robotic patients and other simulation tools. The center also is being marketed to medical devices makers that want to try out new products.

Hands-on experience

Doctors, nurses, medical residents and others showed how the facility can be used to practice their skills by providing care to a “patient” who was brought to the mock ER after getting into a serious automobile accident that severed his leg and exposed him to chemicals.

Participants were able to follow the patient — portrayed in some instances by an actor and in others a simulator — from the ER and intensive-care unit and all the way through to a mock examining room for outpatient care.

“It’s not a good idea to be learning anything for the first time as you’re doing it for the first time,” said Dr. Michael G. Holder, vice president of the institute’s Center for Simulation and Integrated Healthcare Education. “We make sure the first time you do something with a patient is not your first time.”

Guests at the event included leaders of the founding partners, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Summit County Executive Russell Pry, state representatives, U.S. congressional representatives and Dr. W. Gerald and Patricia Austen, for whom the institute is named. (He is the former longtime chair of the Knight Foundation.)

NBA hall of famer Dominique Wilkins also attended the event with local physician and BioInnovation Institute board member Dr. Erwin Maseelall. Wilkins was in town this week to raise awareness about diabetes.

“The biggest thing for me is to try to encourage people to get physically active and diet change,” said Wilkins, who has diabetes. “Prevention is the key.”

Renovated facility

The BioInnovation Institute headquarters is located within renovated space in the old Summit County Job and Family Services building.

Along with the simulation center, the facility features a cadaver lab, auditorium, meeting and educational spaces, testing areas, a standardized patient center, a lab for making prototypes of medical devices being developed locally and office space for the institute and NEOMED.

The county continues to lease the top three floors of the six-floor building for some Job and Family Services functions.

The county sold the building to the Development Finance Authority of Summit County for the appraised value, about $2.5 million, and an additional $190,000 to cover outstanding debt from previous improvements.

The economic development agency then issued $7 million in bonds to help renovate the bottom three floors and the basement for the BioInnovation Institute.

The project also received a $2.5 million low-interest loan from the state, $1 million in equity from the institute and $250,000 from the county for HVAC work on the top floors. In addition, FirstEnergy Corp. contributed $2 million over a two-year span for items related to energy-efficiency certification (known as LEED) in the construction and operation of the building.

The institute is paying about $620,000 a year to lease the space — an amount that covers the annual payments due on the bonds and state loan. Eventually, the institute plans to expand into the entire six-story building.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or cpowell@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.