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A St. Ambrose University graduate who now lives in California returned to Davenport with a $1 million gift, and mission to improve the quality of health care by starting with college students.

Thomas J. Higgins, of Oakland, California, donated $1 million to the university to establish and run the new Institute for Person-Centered Care. The bequest will also include money to establish a new advanced degree: master's in public health.

The institute is the first in the Midwest, and among the few in the United States.

The "whole person" approach to care is a growing movement inthe U.S., and includes a more collaborative approach to treatment through an integrated team of healthcare professionals.

Too many health care dollars are spent on patients with chronic conditions, who repeatedly use expensive emergency room treatment, Higgins said. Underlying factors to these physical problems are loneliness, or depression.

This is well-known among health professionals, but it often manifests itself in unnecessary interventions, and more.

"We know what this takes," Higgins said, citing his background as a state legislator, in the health insurance field, as a policy maker in President Jimmy Carter's administration and in several management jobs.

Even with the knowledge, humans tend to behave in certain ways, he said, health services follow the dollars available to pay for them, and there is a tendency to SILO, or isolate one process from another.

However, Higgins sees the Quad-Cities as an ideal place to launch the institute, in its multi-state, multi-county model, a public health organization and with two health-care systems that do cooperate.

"Here, there is the will, the resources, and St. Ambrose University," he said. "This does take that cooperation."

He also sees timing of the announcement as ideal, and said there are many "thought leaders" in government, and in philanthropy, who support the team approach to care.

The concept of "person-centered care" is familiar to Rick Seidler, president and CEO of UnityPoint Health-Trinity organization. Seidler points to the work at Trinity, which includes collaborative care for patients with mental health issues.

The institute represents an "infusion of capital," Seidler said, "to energize the level of care coordination in this area," such as Trinity's work with Genesis Health System.

"I still consider this my home," Higgins said to the audience of 60 people, including college staff and students, and representatives of multiple health care organizations in the Quad-Cities.

Higgins moved to the West Coast many years ago and is an active investor and entrepreneur in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also on the board of trustees at St. Ambrose; he had graduated from the college in 1967 with cum laude honors.

Sister Joan Lescinski, university president  since 2007, welcomed Higgins back on campus. "It's great to say, that's one of our graduates!" she said.