KANSAS CITY, KAN. KU Med and Children's Mercy Hospital are considering merging portions of their pediatric care units, officials said Tuesday.
Representatives of the two hospitals confirmed they were discussing new types of collaboration, but said it's too early to know what form it might take.
"Everything's a possibility," said Dennis McCulloch, a KU Med spokesman. "It's a crapshoot as far as what's going to come out of this."
McCulloch said officials from KU Med, the hospital affiliated with Kansas University, and Children's Mercy, which operates hospitals in Kansas City, Mo., and Overland Park, have been discussing ways to work together for about four years. But negotiations have been stepped up in recent months.
The two already have some joint programs, including several research projects financed by the National Institutes of Health and the Hall Family Foundation of Kansas City, Mo. Also, several faculty members and physicians split time between the two hospitals, and KU's liver transplant team helped establish a similar program at Children's Mercy.
McCulloch and Thomas McCormally, director of public relations for Children's Mercy, said both programs might save money if they merged at least some components.
"It would make sense that instead of having two competing programs we would have one larger collaborative program," McCormally said.
McCulloch stopped short of calling any potential agreement a merger, opting instead to call it a "very aggressive collaboration." Eliminating KU's pediatrics program, he said, isn't under consideration.
KU Med has a 25-bed pediatric unit, with 51 faculty and physicians. Children's Mercy has about 200 beds between its two facilities. McCormally said collaboration between the two hospitals would not decrease the number of beds available for children.
A merger could change the way child trauma patients are treated in the Kansas City area. Now, Children's Mercy usually takes those children until it runs out of emergency room space. Then, they're taken to KU Med. McCulloch said patients could be split between the two hospitals.
No matter the agreement reached, he said KU students would have access to pediatric faculty and child patients would have access to care.
"There will be no loss over our control in the education process," he said. "There won't be a decrease to access of care. Just maintaining those two things limits the scope of collaboration projects."
McCulloch said the hospitals hoped to make a decision by the end of the year because they each need to begin recruiting residents.
McCormally said the Kansas-Missouri state line that separates the two hospitals and joint operating agreements with other institutions make collaboration between KU Med and Children's Mercy difficult.
"It's a complicated process," he said. "It would be fair to say both sides are interested. This is something we want to make sure is right with everybody."
Staff writer Terry Rombeck can be reached at 832-7145.