A group representing nearly 5,000 Kansas doctors is expressing concern about the Kansas University Medical Center's plans to launch an affiliation with private St. Luke's Hospital across the state line.
"KU officials have not yet made it clear why an affiliation with St. Luke's, or any other hospital for that matter, is essential to KU's plans to participate in the greater Kansas City life sciences effort," members of the Kansas Medical Society say in a statement.
The Jan. 24 statement calls for a more transparent discussion on the subject, which is controversial because some fear it would weaken KU's partner: KU Hospital in Kansas City, Kan.
After all, Kansas City, Mo.-based St. Luke's and KU Hospital are competitors, the statement notes - for patients, faculty, research funding and prestige.
"(A) hurried or rushed collaboration is a recipe for divisiveness and discontent," according to the statement. "If the plans and proposed affiliations are sound and consistent with the mission of the medical school, and if they produce benefits for the entire state, a more transparent, inclusive and deliberate discussion will help build support for the program."
The group also said that KU's plans must be "clearly articulated and carefully considered before any commitments or affiliations are formalized."
Jerry Slaughter, executive director of the Kansas Medical Society, said his group issued the statement after hearing a presentation earlier this month by leaders from the medical center and KU Hospital.
"I think our leadership came away from the meeting still having questions about 'Why?'" Slaughter said.
The statement comes on the cusp of a Governors' Summit on Regional Economic Development in Kansas City, Mo., where higher education and life sciences will be two key topics. Both Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt will attend Thursday's event.
The medical center, the medical research and teaching arm of KU, supplies faculty and students to the neighboring KU Hospital, which has been run independently since 1998.
KU's alliance with hospitals has been a topic of controversy since a 2005 report sponsored by the philanthropic Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. The report, titled "Time to Get it Right," found that the medical center needed the capacity of all Kansas City's major hospitals- including St. Luke's, Truman Medical Center and Children's Mercy Hospital - in order to compete as a leading national medical center.
David Adkins, executive vice chancellor of external affairs at the medical center, said he welcomed the Medical Society's statement.
"I think all of the cautions mentioned in their statement are cautions that we have at the forefront of our mind as we navigate these new waters," he said. "We've already stated previously that we would not take any actions that we believe would be adverse to the interests of the KU Medical Center or the KU Hospital."
KU Hospital leaders say they've been left out of the medical center's planning with St. Luke's.
"Let's just say that everybody is negotiating and there's talks going on daily," said Dennis McCulloch, a KU Hospital spokesman. "It's a very stressful and challenging time."