Topeka In 1998, Kansas University Hospital was in critical condition, plagued by patient dissatisfaction, high employee turnover and outdated equipment.
In an effort to save the hospital, the Legislature spun it off into the arms of an independent board.
On Oct. 1, 1998, Irene Cumming, chief executive of the hospital, was given the keys to the building and a check for 10 days' worth of operating cash.
More than eight years later, Cumming says her patient has made an amazing recovery. KU Hospital has become a leading and growing community hospital in the Kansas City area.
In telling her story to the Legislature this week, Cumming says the years of progress are now threatened by a proposal by its primary partner, the KU School of Medicine.
"This is a wedge we weren't counting on," Cumming said.
The conflict between the School of Medicine and KU Hospital has spilled into the legislative arena, where lawmakers have launched extensive meetings this week to try to determine what is going on. The meetings continue today.
The School of Medicine is pushing for an affiliation agreement among itself, KU Hospital and KU Hospital's major competitor, St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
Supporters of the proposal say it will create the parts needed to improve health care, make the Kansas City area a life sciences center and win a national cancer center designation at KU. The wealthy Stowers Institute and other movers and shakers in Kansas City, Mo., are pushing the plan, promising $150 million in research funds.
Cumming, however, says it could put KU Hospital at a disadvantage in losing the exclusive rights of the KU brand and in recruiting physicians.
"Often the university recruiting is tailored to research needs. We need to respond to clinical needs as well," she said.
The dispute has highlighted the natural tension between the partners - the School of Medicine is where students are trained to become physicians and where research takes place, while KU Hospital is where patients are treated.
Several physician groups also question the affiliation, saying they fear it will have a negative effect on Kansas' ability to train doctors.
But Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of the KU Medical Center, defended the affiliation, saying it should improve both hospitals.
"Competition makes everybody better," said Atkinson.
She said the affiliation was needed to improve research in the area.
"We actually are an academic medical center with a full-time faculty, and we should be bringing in the very top programs in the country. One hundred and fifty million dollars in investments should allow us to bring in hugely important programs that are different than a community hospital has," she said.