Some old ideas get new life at the city-owned hospital.
Lawrence Memorial Hospital's trustees are once again looking westward, not only at a tenacious competitor, but at opportunity.
They're also once again thinking about adding a retail pharmacy, despite intense opposition from independent pharmacists.
In 1991 the trustees approved a long-range strategic plan that included, among other things, the goal of building a satellite office somewhere in West Lawrence.
It never happened, and three years later Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. built a competing outpatient surgery and urgent care clinic at Clinton Parkway and Kasold Drive, called Mt. Oread Medical Arts Centre.
Privately, some LMH trustees and staff members said they regretted not moving faster into West Lawrence. But the opportunity appeared lost to Columbia.
Last week, however, Columbia unveiled plans to build a new hospital at the northwest corner of West Sixth Street and Folks Road. If Columbia goes through with the project -- and that's uncertain -- the Nashville company intends to combine its Mt. Oread facilities into the new hospital.
On Wednesday, the LMH board approved a revision to its strategic plan that once again urges consideration of building an outpatient center in West Lawrence.
At this point the hospital isn't taking any steps to build anything, but the plan makes studying the idea a priority for the board in the next 12 to 18 months.
"It says we're going to emphasize the idea," said Ray Davis, a Kansas University associate professor of health services administration who next month becomes chairman of the LMH board of trustees.
Also Wednesday, the hospital board reopened discussion of whether to open a retail pharmacy within the hospital.
In 1994, when the board last considered such a proposal, independent pharmacists in the city were strongly opposed to having to compete against the hospital. Pharmacists everywhere are now in tight competition with each other, with profits squeezed by cost-cutting insurers and government health programs.
But Pat Parker, the hospital's director of pharmacy, is recommending the hospital create a state-of-the-art pharmacy that would focus on advising patients about how to properly use their medications. Insurers don't yet pay for such activities, and the hospital would lose at least $70,000 in three years before turning a small profit in the new pharmacy, according to Parker's projections.
But he hopes the hospital would recoup some of those losses by preventing misuse of medications that now leads to some hospitalizations. If successful, the new pharmacy would also save patients money by keeping some of them out of the hospital.
And in five to 10 years, insurers might be willing to pay for such counseling efforts, Parker said.
"We're trying to create an environment that offers some very specialized services," Parker said.
But the board still has questions. Will independent pharmacists resent the competition? Are the loss projections accurate, or could the losses balloon?
"Why should the city substantially support losses in a pharmacy that's competing against tax-paying retail enterprises?" asked Tom Wilcox, owner of Round Corner Drug Store, an independent pharmacy at 801 Mass.
"Most of us are fighting for our economic lives in a free marketplace economy," Wilcox said.
The board postponed its vote on the pharmacy proposal for at least a month.