Topeka Lawmakers on Tuesday were stuck between dueling doctors fighting over the proposed affiliation between the Kansas University Medical Center and Kansas City, Mo.-based St. Luke's Hospital.
Physicians from KU Hospital, who oppose the affiliation as it has been presented, told a House committee that the proposal was too risky and could end up harming the quality of health care in Kansas.
"We've worked very hard to get where we are, and we don't want to give it away," said Dr. William Barkman, chief of staff at KU Hospital.
St. Luke's is a competitor of KU Hospital, which is the teaching hospital for KUMC and its School of Medicine. But KUMC has said it needs to partner with St. Luke's in order to lure private research dollars and gain status as a national cancer center.
Several members of the Government Efficiency and Technology Committee were sympathetic to the KU Hospital doctors' concerns, but several weren't.
"This is sounding a lot like a turf battle," said Rep. Judith Loganbill, D-Wichita.
Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, said "I hope we don't get our sticky fingers in it and muck it up."
The fight between KU Hospital and KUMC over the proposed education and research affiliation with St. Luke's has been waged for several weeks before the Legislature.
Last week, the House budget committee recommended approval of a measure that would strip the medical center of its state funding - $116 million in the next fiscal year - if it signs an agreement with St. Luke's that the KU Hospital board doesn't like. That measure is expected to be debated Thursday on the House floor.
Meanwhile, negotiations have been ongoing between KU Hospital and KUMC. On Tuesday, both sides announced they were "close" to reaching some agreements but Barkman said he wasn't sure what that meant.
"They are making headway, but we just don't know what close means," he said.
Barkman and Drs. Louis Wetzel, Gregory Ator and William Reed told the committee that KU Hospital has risen from the economic ashes of the late 1990s and competes directly with St. Luke's for doctors and patients.
"An affiliation should not impede the growth and success of this thriving clinical enterprise," Wetzel said.
They said the affiliation could risk patient care at the expense of beefing up life sciences research.
But Rep. Stephanie Sharp, R-Lenexa, produced a letter signed by 18 doctors at the medical center who said they supported the affiliation.
One of those was Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center. Sharp said Jensen's job was to get national cancer center designation for KU, and Jensen said the affiliation is needed.
"If he says that's what it takes, he's kind of written the book," Sharp said.
But Wetzel noted that Jensen is an employee of the medical center, which is pushing for the affiliation.
Other legislators sided with the KU Hospital physicians. Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, said it appeared that KU was willing to give its academic status to St. Luke's in return for St. Luke's paying inflated prices to the medical center to help train residents.