Archive for Friday, March 9, 2007

KU Hospital seeks affiliation freeze

March 9, 2007

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— Kansas University Hospital on Thursday called for a halt to affiliation negotiations between the KU School of Medicine and Missouri-based St. Luke's Hospital.

"We have asked the university to stop all negotiations with St. Luke's until the (KU) Hospital and school have a final agreement," said Irene Cumming, KU Hospital president and chief executive officer.

Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of the KU Medical Center, said that would be easy to comply with because there are no ongoing talks with St. Luke's pending resolution of grievances with KU Hospital.

"We're not doing anything else about this until we finish these negotiations with the hospital," Atkinson said.

The back-and-forth between the School of Medicine and KU Hospital represented the third day this week when the entities have aired disagreements before the Legislature.

The dispute surrounds a proposal by the KU School of Medicine to sign a research and education affiliation with St. Luke's, based in Kansas City, Mo.

Competition

Atkinson told the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Thursday that the affiliation would improve health care, draw $150 million in private research dollars and help KU attain national cancer center designation.

"We are poised for a major transformation," Atkinson said.

But KU Hospital, the primary teaching hospital of the School of Medicine, has balked at the proposal because St. Luke's is its major competitor.

Cumming, KU Hospital's leader, said the deal could hurt the hospital's ability to recruit doctors and hinder physician training for Kansas.

"Our 100-year partner is working with our competition and affecting our competitive edge in Kansas City," Cumming said.

Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said to Atkinson, "I don't know why in the world you would want to go forward with this."

Atkinson said the School of Medicine would never agree to an affiliation that would harm KU Hospital, and that she believes partnering with St. Luke's fits with the broader goal of making the Kansas City area a life sciences research center.

"There is a special relationship with our hospital and there will always be a special relationship," she said.

Concerns

Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, chairman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee, said legislators are hearing from numerous constituents who have concerns about the School of Medicine's intent.

He released a letter signed by Dr. William Barkman, chief of staff at KU Hospital, and five other elected medical staff officers that urges caution in the affiliation between KU and St. Luke's.

"Lending or selling 'academic credibility' to a major competitor may significantly impact the competitive hospital marketplace," the letter states.

Barnett said he thought Cumming presented real concerns, but added that Atkinson's goal of improving the status of the School of Medicine in life sciences research also was valid.

He said the Legislature could get involved in the issue, but added that "it sounds like some serious negotiations are still needed" between the School of Medicine and KU Hospital.

Before the Senate committee, and later before a House committee, Atkinson reiterated that by entering into a research affiliation with St. Luke's, KU-trained doctors will have a broader base of patient cases.

In addition, she noted that private research funds, notably from the Stowers Institute, have been pledged through the affiliation.

But Cumming said under the proposal St. Luke's would be able to call itself "A Major Academic Teaching and Research Hospital of the KU Medical Center."

Cumming said: "We object to that. We have spent millions and millions of dollars in branding."

She said the hospital feared losing doctors and programs to St. Luke's because it has more flexibility in recruitment while KU Hospital must hire through a bureaucratic process administered by KU.

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