First came the announcement about a secret plan to form an affiliation or collaboration between the Kansas University Medical Center, KU Hospital and Kansas City, Mo.'s St. Luke's Hospital.
What it amounted to was a plan to give away the KU Medical Center and KU Hospital to help strengthen St. Luke's. It was, and remains, a one-way street, with St. Luke's getting everything and KUMC, KU Hospital and the state of Kansas getting little if anything. At this stage, it is unknown what incentives are being offered to KUMC Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson and whether there is some undisclosed payoff for her or the school that would cause her, along with Chancellor Robert Hemenway and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, to be so obsessed in favoring the flawed plan.
The original plan called for St. Luke's to be designated as a major part of the planned cancer center. St. Luke's doctors would be able to say they were part of or affiliated with the KU Medical Center, and St. Luke's would be provided a number of KU medical residents every year. As yet, there is no firm written agreement between KU Hospital and the medical school or between the two KU entities and St. Luke's. The next KU Hospital board meeting is July 10, and there currently is no reason to believe there will be an agreement before that meeting.
One possibility is that the Medical Center might make a deal on its own with St. Luke's because Atkinson has said she doesn't have to tell KU Hospital people what she is doing.
Now comes the announcement of an $800 million plan for a massive expansion of KU's research facilities. According to various knowledgeable individuals, this new plan has little if anything to do with the current hospital debate. It is all about research.
Where is the $800 million coming from? According to those close to the scene, no hospital or clinical revenues are going to be used in raising the $800 million. So it's all going to have to come from gifts, grants or the Legislature. Those promoting the plan talk about philanthropic giving of $100 million or so, (Is this in addition to the $150 million in gifts said to be coming for the Medical Center, KU Hospital and St. Luke's venture?) and they want a BIG contribution from the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
The Bioscience Authority has the potential of earning a great deal over the next seven years, but it certainly doesn't have that big of a bank account now. And it would have to turn its back on other worthy projects throughout the state - not just in Johnson and Douglas counties - to provide big dollars to the KU research effort. It would all be a matter of priorities with many promising opportunities in other parts of the state probably being left out. What will state legislators say about that?
In regard to major additional Kansas legislative appropriations, there is one major roadblock. Several senior Kansas City players and some on Mount Oread have let it be known they believe the Legislature is dominated by "farmers" and people from western Kansas who are not smart enough to know about research and modern medical needs. This thinking has gotten back to the lawmakers, and it is not going to help those from KU or the Kansas City crowd who have their hands out for millions of Kansas tax dollars.
Did those planning the hospital merger or giveaway know a year ago they would be announcing an $800 million research deal a year later? Did they think they could force the hospital affiliation by tacking on the research project?
How are they going to pay for the massive research project with hundreds of new researchers, millions of dollars in new sophisticated equipment and many new buildings?
This may be the first hint of a new capital campaign to be launched by KU and the KU Endowment Association. With the poor morale among many on the KU campus, the negative fallout from fundraising tactics used by the KU athletic department, parents questioning ever-rising tuition costs, the growing unhappiness throughout the state about the KU-St. Luke's deal and a general lack of enthusiasm about KU's leadership, now would not seem the best time for a huge capital campaign.
KU Endowment officials won't say anything about an upcoming capital campaign, but it is believed there already are plans for the "silent" part of the campaign to get under way in a year and a half.
Getting back to the Medical Center matter, some in Kansas City say the current proposal calls for a sizable part of KU's cardiac research to be handed over to St. Luke's.
There is a big argument about who would have control or oversight of the KU doctors: the Medical Center or KU Hospital? This matter is far from being resolved as is the plan to give St. Luke's doctors the KU identification. Another point of contention is how much KU Hospital would pay the KU medical school each year. Atkinson turned down the first offer, saying there were too many strings attached.
One thing is certain, great pressure is going to be placed on Bob Page, Irene Cumming's successor as KU Hospital CEO, to give in to the Medical Center and St. Luke's plan. The majority of hospital board members remain opposed to the one-way street so there will have to be some major flip-flops for KU Hospital to agree to the ever-changing wish list of St. Luke's and Atkinson.
It's difficult to settle on an agreement when one party - St. Luke's and KU Medical Center - keeps changing its demands.
It is great that KU officials are dreaming and talking about a massive expansion of their research efforts. It's also great that KU Medical Center people are dreaming of earning the prestigious National Cancer Institute cancer center designation. These are two worthy goals that would benefit many if they become a reality.
Raising $800 million is a huge challenge and, at this time, it appears this is a lot of wishful thinking without firm commitments or possibilities for where this money will come from. In fact, one top KUMC official said he or she had no concrete idea where the money would come from.
The NCI designation could be achieved without the giveaway to St. Luke's. There is nothing that says providing KU-trained residents to St. Luke's is essential to get the NCI seal of approval. Broad and excellent research is the most important criteria, not whether St. Luke's has KU doctors.
Dreams and aspirations are good and are needed to achieve excellence, but there must be substance to these ideas; they can't be merely wishes, "pipe dreams" or efforts to make someone look good.
Seldom do deals, partnerships, alliances or collaborative efforts work out for the genuine benefit of all involved when such arrangements are achieved through threats, blackmail and political pressure.
KU has enough going for it that it shouldn't have to bend to every selfish pressure tactic or hollow promise by Missouri hospital and research center representatives or a handful of Kansas City business leaders. It is a good state-aided university and with vision, courage and bold, imaginative leadership, it has the potential to become an even finer institution.