Archive for Saturday, July 1, 2006

Simons: Proposed K.C. health alliance appears to be too much, too soon

July 1, 2006

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Some time, the sooner the better, there needs to be some honest, straightforward talk about the proposed plan being discussed by a small number of Kansas City individuals about forming some kind of alliance among the Kansas University Medical Center, the University of Kansas Hospital, St. Luke's Hospital and Children's Mercy Hospital.

This is a very significant proposal, and it deserves to be discussed openly, not behind closed doors with different explanations emerging about what is being planned.

It would seem a number of people in responsible positions, at least those on the Kansas side of the state line, should have been consulted about the plan. As it is, many have been left in the dark and know little about the proposal other than what they have read in several newspapers.

There is too much double-talk by those who have been in the inner circle on this project.

Kansas legislative leaders know little about the plan and, apparently, members of the Kansas Board of Regents were not consulted about the possible alliance. There are mixed signals as to just when KU Hospital officials were brought into the picture, with some saying Irene Cumming, the hospital president and CEO, was part of the plan from the outset while others claim she was not included in the proposal until pressure was applied.

Some suggest there is nothing firm about the plan, claiming it's just a someday dream about possibilities, while various notices imply dates have been set for stages of the plan to be set in motion.

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For example, one printed schedule says the "Steering Committee Kickoff" is set for June 1, that "institutions develop and complete high level affiliation designs" from June 5 to July 10, that affiliation designs and financial plans will be developed along with detailed measurable implementation plans from July 12 to Aug. 15, with a steering committee review set for the week of Aug. 15. This sounds like a fairly firm schedule for planning to be finished. Nothing too "iffy" about this. Now they have hired a public relations firm to help sell the idea.

One leading Kansas legislator said he has been "surprised, confused and shocked" by the actions of the Kansas City planning group and its failure to visit with Kansas lawmakers.

He said, "There is an arrogance in the manner they are pursuing this project, an arrogance in the thinking they can count on $150 million from the Kansas Bioscience Authority."

It is reported that at least one member of the governing group of KU Hospital had not been told about plans to tie the hospital into a program with St. Luke's and Children's Mercy.

Another Kansas legislator asked, "Where does the KU Medical Center facility in Wichita come into the picture? Some seem to be so enamored with the Kansas City, Missouri, hospitals. Why isn't there any consideration given to bringing the Wichita medical school into the picture? This hospital employs a lot of people, and it serves a wide area of Kansas. Why has the KU Medical Center facility in Wichita been left out in the cold?"

He added, "Something just doesn't smell right about the entire project."

Perhaps a plan to work out some kind of cooperative program between the KU Medical Center, KU Hospital, St. Luke's and Children's Mercy may have a great deal of merit. Maybe it's wrong to think this scheme is motivated by Kansas City, Mo., leaders who want to get their hospitals tied into the KU Medical Center so they can benefit from the Kansas bioscience movement.

Despite the appearances, maybe it wasn't the intent of the handful of those in Kansas City to hatch this plan in a cloak of secrecy.

Whatever the case, it is hoped the Kansas City people have learned something out of this. This writer has not talked to anyone who isn't open to the new ideas and open to cooperation for the benefit of the greater Kansas City area.

However, there is, indeed, an arrogance in the hush-hush, rush-rush manner in which this has been handled. It is almost inconceivable that all members of the KU Hospital were not told of this plan at the earliest possible date. Likewise, it is difficult to understand why legislative leaders were not told of such a significant plan. The same thinking applies to those serving on the Kansas Board of Regents.

A tremendous amount of effort has been, and continues to be, made on behalf of the KU Medical Center effort to be designated as a comprehensive cancer center, with various cost estimates being made about what will be require to achieve this goal. At no time was it mentioned, at least publicly, that St. Luke's and Children's Mercy would be a part of this plan and that the Kansas Bioscience Authority would be expected to come up with $150 million to $175 million to help fund the program. Considering that no one from the Bioscience Authority has been contacted about financing plans, there have been far too many assumptions about funding and possible contributors.

Again, the idea of a closer affiliation or joint efforts may be excellent and make a lot of sense, but the planning for this project leaves a great deal to be desired and has caused too much suspicion about the motives of those doing the planning.

It might be a good idea to slow down, engage a wider circle of Kansas City and Kansas legislative leaders, and not try to put together a plan as quickly as possible, before the public gets wind of the proposal. If it is good for all the hospitals, safeguards Kansas interests, is good for the greater Kansas City and will help this area become a true national leader in the bioscience field, the project deserves sound, thoughtful and open planning.

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