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Archive for Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Regents check into Med Center

Higher education board to monitor hospital-affiliation proceedings

February 14, 2007

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Some might call it a preventive checkup.

After facing pressure from a top lawmaker, members of the Kansas Board of Regents on Monday said they would seek more answers about Kansas University's plans to strike a deal that would send some KU medical faculty and students to a Kansas City, Mo., hospital.

Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Nelson Galle said he asked KU leaders to respond by March 2 to concerns raised by Kansas House of Representatives Speaker Melvin Neufeld regarding the proposed deal between Kansas University Medical Center and St. Luke's Hospital.

But Galle stopped short of granting Neufeld's request that the regents postpone the March 31 deadline set by the health care groups to get a deal finalized.

"(If) satisfactory responses are not produced in a timely manner, or if those responses raise additional concerns about this effort, the board will at that time consider whether it should act to interrupt the process that is currently under way," Galle's statement said.

The hospital plan is controversial because some fear it could weaken the medical center's longtime partner hospital, KU Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., and threaten the supply of qualified Kansas doctors. KU Hospital leaders have been openly critical of the plan and say they were shut out of negotiations.

Neufeld last week said he worries that allowing KU-trained interns to transfer to St. Luke's would diminish the number of doctors at KUMC in Wichita, which is where many rural communities recruit their doctors.

If the regents fail to oversee the negotiations, Neufeld has warned, he will seek passage of a bill that would require lawmakers to approve any partnerships between the medical center and other groups.

In December, Dick Bond, one of nine regents responsible for overseeing the state's higher-education system, told the Journal-World that the board knew "practically nothing" about KUMC's plans.

"We're not going to micromanage," he said at the time.

The board's awareness of the situation has grown in recent months, along with public debate on the subject. Galle said in his statement that regents got a "comprehensive briefing" last month from KUMC Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson, who is in favor of the St. Luke's affiliation.

"We appreciate the communication we have received throughout the development of this initiative, and we certainly expect that to continue," Galle's statement said. "We have been impressed with what we have heard from KU leaders about this affiliations effort. But, as we move forward, we will ensure that KU provides us with information sufficient for us to satisfy ourselves that these proposed affiliations are truly in the best interests of the state's higher education system."

A KU Hospital spokesman declined comment on the statement. Amy Jordan Wooden, a spokeswoman for KUMC, said she welcomed the discussion.

"They need to talk about these things," she said.

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