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Archive for Thursday, March 22, 2007

Hospital board to discuss its next leader

March 22, 2007

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Staff at Kansas University Hospital are waiting anxiously for a decision about who will replace the hospital's leader, who resigned this week amid tension between the hospital and KU's medical school.

The Kansas City, Kan., hospital's 19-member board will meet Tuesday to consider a replacement for President and CEO Irene Cumming, who turned the hospital around financially in her 11-year tenure. The board has essentially two choices: promote a member of Cumming's team, or start a broad search to bring in new blood.

"The board is still discussing that. There is a huge groundswell here at the hospital for an internal candidate to keep the momentum going," KU Hospital spokesman Dennis McCulloch said Wednesday. "The argument for an internal candidate is that we have incredible momentum in terms of patient volume, in terms of patient satisfaction."

But a competing argument, he said, is that the KU Hospital job could be considered a premiere post nationwide and that it's worthwhile to broaden the search.

Cumming, who resigned Monday, is leaving KU to become president and CEO of the University HealthSystem Consortium, a group of 97 academic medical centers and their affiliated hospitals.

She has clashed in recent months with Barbara Atkinson, dean of the KU School of Medicine, about the relationship between the hospital and the medical school. Cumming has been critical of Atkinson's plan to start a new affiliation with St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., which Cumming says has the potential to harm KU Hospital.

KU Hospital cardiologist Charles Porter said he believes the top job should go to a member of Cumming's staff.

"I think the best thing to do for the hospital is clearly to take a member of that executive team that's been involved with her and put them in a position where they can continue to lead the hospital in a way that would eliminate questions about a personality conflict," Porter said. "If you had a situation where the organization was failing and things were in disarray, you would logically seek someone from the outside to be able to correct what's wrong."

Porter said he feared that if the board formed a search committee to bring in an external candidate, it could leave the hospital vulnerable in coming months.

"If a committee is formed for a national search, the senior leadership that have been so successful in bringing KU Hospital to this point will depart because their roles are uncertain and the future of the hospital is uncertain," he said.

George Farha, chairman of the hospital's board, has said that Cumming's successor will be named "well in advance" of her departure at the end of June.

Meanwhile, Cumming will continue negotiating the details of what the hospital and medical school's relationship will look like in coming years, including to what extent St. Luke's is involved.

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