Will Columbia Healthcare be allowed to build a hospital in Lawrence?
The answer to this question rests on the shoulders of Lawrence city commissioners, who have the authority to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to Columbia's request to build a hospital on a site at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Folks Road.
Planning commission members gave their unanimous approval for the zoning of the land that would accommodate a hospital, but city commissioners must approve a land-use application by Columbia.
It is likely to be a major battle and it is unfortunate the Lawrence hospital situation has reached this point.
Controversy relative to the Lawrence hospital has existed for years. The question of whether Columbia should be allowed to build a hospital is just the latest of a long history of concern over how the hospital is operated, the lack of vision of some board members and those on the hospital's staff, the attitude of hospital administrators and many other situations surrounding the hospital and the quality of care provided for Lawrence area residents.
When Columbia first came to Lawrence, officials of the giant, publicly owned hospital company said they would like to have a hospital in Lawrence.
They first attempted to have serious visits with Lawrence Memorial Hospital officials about a proposed merger between LMH and Columbia. It would have been a major financial windfall for LMH, but it was rejected. Not only was it rejected, but hospital officials were arrogant and rude in the manner they dealt with Columbia representatives.
Many in Lawrence thought Columbia was merely bluffing to build a hospital and that there really wasn't any substance or truth to the possibility. LMH officials were quick to say it would be foolish for anyone to build another hospital and that such a facility would be a financial disaster.
This debate started in 1994, when Columbia opened its first medical building on Clinton Parkway. Since then, and even prior to this time, hospital officials from other area medical operations and other doctors' groups have approached LMH officials about some kind of an association or affiliation. However, each time these out-of-town medical representatives were treated rudely and in an arrogant manner.
Local officials made it clear they had no plans to merge with any other hospital facility, they could operate on a stand-alone, independent basis and they had no intention of joining forces, even if this was what was taking place throughout the country. LMH officials knew more and were better informed about current health care practices than anyone else and they didn't need to entertain any ideas about tying in with the Kansas University Medical Center, St. Luke's in Kansas City, Mo., hospitals in Topeka or with Columbia.
Now there is every reason to believe Columbia is dead serious about building another hospital and LMH officials finally realize they are facing serious problems.
They have announced they will ask city commissioners to deny the land-use request by Columbia. It is reported they have hired out-of-town legal counsel to argue their case and to use the same argument that was used years ago by the city and downtown Lawrence businesses in denying Jacobs, Visconsi and Jacobs, a major retail developer, from building a malled facility southeast of 35th and Iowa streets. JVJ was defeated in its efforts to build in the downtown area -- with the gist of all arguments that a JVJ center would be damaging to downtown businesses.
Now, the argument is to be made that a new hospital would be damaging to LMH and, in some way or another, damaging to area residents.
LMH officials should be arguing on the merits of their hospital, trying to suggest they provide excellent care, at the lowest possible rates and that there is no need for another hospital.
Instead, at least at this time, they are going to ask city commissioners to save their game, in effect asking city commissioners to give them a life-support system by denying competition. It is interesting to note that several years ago a hospital spokesman said it would be foolish for anyone to invest in another hospital in Lawrence and that it couldn't make it financially. Now that Columbia claims it wants to build a hospital, LMH spokesmen are faced with the fact there is a company willing to invest in the medical future of Lawrence and LMH officials now are pinning their hopes on city commissioners to save their hospital. This suggests it is the financial health of LMH that is at stake, not this proposed Columbia hospital.
If city commissioners should deny the Columbia request, does this merely give LMH administrators a green light to continue as they have for the past "X" number of years? Is this fair to Lawrence residents?
Some have suggested hospital board members might be so desperate to hold off Columbia that they would offer to discharge senior hospital administrators if this would give commissioners more reason to support LMH.
Perhaps the upcoming battle between Columbia and LMH, with city commissioners tossed into the middle of the war, will serve a purpose in that it will bring to light many questionable actions and attitudes by some LMH officials and their rude, know-it-all manner in dealing with many who have expressed interest in working with the Lawrence hospital to provide better medical treatment.
Columbia has its share of critics and there have been situations in other cities which need to be explained by Columbia representatives. At the same time, some of these charges against Columbia are untrue and the record needs to be set straight.
Columbia wants to build a modern health-care facility, it is believed they have completed arrangements to buy a large local medical practice and they say the addition of another hospital will improve health care and lower costs for area residents.
Due to the actions and manner of some at LMH over a number of years, Lawrence city commissioners now are being placed in the position of having to decide whether to allow competition or allow LMH to continue as it has in the past.