Archive for Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Anatomy of a KU merger proposal

KU Hospital CEO shares concerns on KU Medical Center’s affiliation quest

February 28, 2007


Negotiations turn heated in KU Med merger

Heated negotiations are going on this week in a proposed deal to stat sending some KU medical faculty and students to work at a hospital across the state line in Kansas City, Mo. Enlarge video

Kansas University Hospital's president has written a letter that provides a glimpse inside the contentious negotiations to strike a three-way hospital deal that would start sending some KU medical programs to St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

Leaders of KU Hospital, which is staffed by KU medical faculty and students, fear the plan will put them in financial jeopardy and question why it's needed.

"So far, the negotiations have been difficult, and it is too early to tell" whether there will be a way to reach an arrangement that benefits all the parties, KU Hospital President/CEO Irene Cumming wrote in a letter sent Friday to the hospital's medical staff. "The future success of our clinical enterprise is my utmost concern."

Cumming is at odds on many issues with Barbara Atkinson, who oversees KU's medical teaching and research as dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice chancellor.

Atkinson has criticized the hospital for not contributing enough money to KU's academic enterprise. She supports the new affiliation with St. Luke's, saying it's critical to KU's goal of becoming tops in life sciences research, especially in cancer research.

But given the emphasis on research, Cumming questions why KU needs to become involved with St. Luke's in the field of training doctors and treating patients.

"I do not understand the need for anything beyond a research affiliation," Cumming wrote in her letter to staff.

In a separate letter sent to the medical staff in recent days, Atkinson affirmed her support for a March 31 deadline to finish the negotiations.

"Those who want to derail these affiliations often point to the deadlines and seek to have them postponed for whatever reason," Atkinson wrote. "Deadlines are helpful in moving issues to resolution and we have been engaged in these discussions for over a year. It's time to resolve these issues."

In her letter, Cumming said the March 31 deadline was from Kansas City civic leaders, who "threaten" that unless a deal is made by that date, $130 million they've proposed donating won't be available to the School of Medicine.

KU Hospital spokesman Dennis McCulloch said Tuesday that leaders from both KU Hospital and the medical school, as well as Kansas University Physicians Inc., the group that runs KU's outpatient doctors' offices, have been sitting around the table multiple times each week. On Tuesday, for example, they spent six hours in negotiation, he said.

"I can only say that talks are going on and both sides appear to be looking for a resolution, but these are difficult questions," he said.

In addition, Friday is the deadline set by the Kansas Board of Regents for KU leaders to respond to any questions that lawmakers and regents have about the proposed affiliation. Regents spokesman Kip Peterson said more information about that process would be available Friday.

Talking points on proposed merger

Here are a few of the issues covered in recent letters sent to medical faculty by Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of Kansas University Medical Center, and Irene Cumming, president and CEO of KU Hospital. ¢ Training doctors vs. serving patients: Atkinson has said KU Hospital must assume more financial responsibility for graduate medical education, including residents' salaries. If the hospital does that, Cumming said, "Less money would then be available for investment back into the clinical enterprise for equipment, facilities and faculty compensation. While there is much enthusiasm to carve up hospital revenue to support research and education, we must continue to invest in people, technology and space to meet clinical needs."¢ Faculty titles: Cumming says she fears KU's proposed partnership with St. Luke's Hospital could "dilute" KU's academic brand by conferring titles on doctors who have not practiced significantly as academic physicians. "Our academic distinction disappears with this affiliation agreement," she wrote. Atkinson wrote: "Physicians who have a substantial role in education and research will be eligible for faculty appointments no matter the site of their activities."¢ Cancer center designation: KU leaders say an affiliation with St. Luke's is necessary if the school wants to gain the patient base required to be designated a "comprehensive cancer center" by the National Cancer Institute. But Cumming wrote that the institute "has not required any other center to affiliate with its primary competitor."¢ Hiring doctors: Cumming says she fears St. Luke's would be able to hire doctors more quickly as clinical needs arise, which could put KU Hospital at a disadvantage. At KU Hospital, "the physicians and hospital cannot grow patient programs without time-consuming and difficult negotiations with the University. : St. Luke's has no such barrier."


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