Topeka Several lawmakers Wednesday expressed dismay with Kansas University's proposal to affiliate with Missouri-based St. Luke's Hospital.
"We represent the people of this state, and I'm telling you there is an awful lot of distrust of KU," said Rep. Jim Morrison, R-Colby, chairman of the House Government Efficiency and Technology Committee.
Several committee members also criticized the Kansas Board of Regents for failing to get more involved in KU's proposal. The committee, which had scheduled three meetings this week on the issue, said it would hold more meetings next week to get testimony from members of the Kansas Board of Regents.
"This is a volatile enough issue," Morrison said.
The dispute centers on an effort by the KU School of Medicine to enter into an affiliation with St. Luke's Hospital, a Kansas City, Mo.-based hospital that competes with KU Hospital.
KU leaders say the affiliation is needed to advance life sciences in the region, win a national cancer center designation, and lure private philanthropy research dollars in Missouri.
KU Hospital says the proposal will harm it and Kansas' ability to train and recruit doctors.
On Wednesday, Reginald Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the Board of Regents, told the committee that the board was generally pleased with the effort by the KU School of Medicine.
"We have been fully apprised of that vision, and it is a vision that the board has embraced," Robinson said.
The board has been criticized by some lawmakers for failing to protect Kansas' interests in the negotiations.
But Robinson said the board has limited authority in the matter - it oversees the KU Medical Center, which includes the School of Medicine, but it has few dealings with KU Hospital, which operates under an independent board.
"This situation represents a complicated structural dynamic," Robinson said.
But committee members said the Regents must maintain the integrity of health care training in Kansas.
Rep. Joe McLeland, R-Wichita, said the affiliation with St. Luke's could hurt KU's School of Medicine in Wichita.
"I see this as pulling residents and interns out of Wichita and putting them in Kansas City," he said.
Robinson reiterated KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway's statements that the school would do nothing to harm KU Hospital or health care in Kansas.
Morrison then asked Robinson if the Regents would commit to opposing any affiliation agreement that didn't have the OK from KU Hospital.
"I'm not prepared to make that commitment," Robinson said.
Morrison then said it would be necessary to have board members testify, probably Tuesday or Wednesday.
Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center, is scheduled to testify today before the committee.
Earlier Wednesday, KU School of Medicine and KU Hospital issued conflicting statements on how negotiations were going between the two entities.
Atkinson said "substantial agreement was achieved on a number of issues."
But Irene Cumming, KU Hospital chief executive officer, responded with a statement that said "we have significant unresolved issues."
Atkinson said KU and the hospital reached accord on several issues, including future financial investments in the School of Medicine, the number of residents at KU Hospital and "defining the future alignment between the physicians and the KU Hospital and the KU School of Medicine."
But Cumming said issues of whether KU Hospital would play a lead role in efforts to get national cancer center designation, and the way in which St. Luke's will use the KU brand, remain up in the air.
"More troubling to the hospital," she said, "are areas where we seem as far or farther apart than ever."