The community debate about the future of Lawrence Memorial Hospital began nearly two years ago with news that a financially strong for-profit health care company was coming to town.
Some sort of a resolution is expected Wednesday when the LMH board decides whether to accept or reject either of two partnership offers.
Here's a review of key events leading up to the decision.
Columbia Health Care Corp., the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, announces that it will be the main tenant in a medical office building under construction at Clinton Parkway and Kasold Drive and that it will build a second building on the property. The Lawrence City Commission approves a zoning variance that allows the new outpatient medical center to erect several large signs, including several illuminated emergency room signs.
Columbia, now called Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., says it has purchased eight acres adjoining its Mt. Oread Medical Arts Centre complex in Lawrence. Company executives say the additional land could become the site of a birthing center or an overnight hospital building.
Mt. Oread Medical Arts Centre's first building opens with doctor's offices, an urgent care and occupational health clinic and a pharmacy.
City of Lawrence signs a contract to send city employees to Mt. Oread for work-related health services previously provided by the city-owned hospital, Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Later in the month, LMH's chief executive officer, Robert Ohlen, holds his first formal meeting with two Columbia executives, Kevin Hicks, chief executive officer of Columbia's Overland Park Regional Medical Center, and Kevin Gross, Columbia's Kansas City regional president. "I told him we're competing, and let's compete professionally," Hicks said. The issue of selling the hospital does not come up, according to both sides. But Columbia executives also say that they want a "working relationship" with LMH and that the company hopes to develop a statewide network of hospitals.
Columbia says it is planning to build a new hospital with 50 to 70 beds in Lawrence. But Columbia executives say that the plans aren't certain and that they would prefer to purchase Lawrence Memorial Hospital or enter into a joint venture with the city-owned, not-for-profit hospital.
A group called the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Our Community Hospital organizes a forum where hospital supporters urge LMH to be wary of Columbia. Later in the month, Columbia makes a presentation to the LMH board of trustees. The company proposes a 50-50 joint venture.
Three other groups make presentations to the LMH board. The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth doesn't suggest a partnership but says it is willing to discuss working with LMH if that's what the hospital wants. Two hospital groups centered in Kansas City make proposals for partnerships, but they are less specific than Columbia's offer. One of the groups includes the Kansas University Medical Center, the Health Midwest system of hospitals and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Topeka. The other group includes the eight hospitals under the umbrella of a regional network called Mid-America Health First, which includes St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and Shawnee Mission Medical Center.
A memo from the LMH board outlines its assessment of the offers. All have downsides. Problems with the Columbia proposal included: Loss of local control, a lack of trust and a "divisive" approach by Columbia.
LMH board members meet privately with area physicians to find out what they think of the three partnership offers.
Second building at Mt. Oread facility opens, with an outpatient surgery center, medical lab, a CAT scanner and other imaging equipment.
Columbia takes a one-year option on 28.4 acres of land in the Oread West development near the intersection of 15th Street and Wakarusa Drive, where the company says it will build a new hospital with 50 to 100 beds unless LMH and Columbia form some sort of "mutually acceptable agreement." "That's not a threat," says David Nevill, Mt. Oread's chief operating officer. "That's a promise." Ken Martinez, chairman of the LMH board, responds: "I don't know whether it's a pressure tactic or not."
Still waiting for a response to its proposal, Columbia buys The Internal Medicine Group PA, a six-doctor group that includes Dr. Gregory Schnose, LMH chief of staff since January 1994. Howard Mossberg is elected chairman of the LMH board.
Lawrence Mayor Bob Moody decides against reappointing two members of the LMH board, Stephen Craig and Don Johnston. A third member, Sidney Garrett, steps down to devote more time to her business. Moody replaces them with a former Lawrence mayor, Bob Schulte, a former Kansas Secretary of Aging, Joanne Hurst, and a former Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Joseph Harkins. "It's not an indictment on the existing board," Moody says. "It's just that anything we can do to broaden the representation and the breadth of experience on the hospital board is in the best interest of Lawrence Memorial Hospital." Also, Mossberg announces a schedule for decision on proposals. Consulting reports will be released in November and a decision will be made Jan. 17, 1996.
November 1995: Consultants' "white paper" released. St. Luke's/HealthFirst group is out of contention because of internal troubles. A health care consultant rates independence preferable to partnerships with remaining two contenders. Accountants say LMH is fine on its own, that it should command a premium price if any for-profit corporation buys it, and that a deal with Columbia would probably result in higher costs for consumers. Lawyers say any partnership deal with LMH would raise complicated legal issues.
December 1995-January 1996
At two public hearings for hospital employees and volunteers and two others for the public, most speakers say they want LMH to remain independent.
At a study session with consultants, lawyers say LMH board may be obligated to retain control of the hospital because it is legally obligated to run the hospital for the benefit of the people of Lawrence.