Say what they may, the public is not getting an accurate, honest story from Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway, KU Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas City philanthropic and civic leader Bill Hall, KUMC spokesman David Adkins and others about the unfolding hospital mess in Kansas City.
What the public has been fed are half-truths, if not lies, double-talk, shifting story lines, hollow threats, phony arguments and political pressure tactics.
If it wasn't such a serious, embarrassing display of poor leadership and supposedly respected individuals not shooting straight with the public, the situation would be laughable.
However, it is not a laughing matter, and all Kansans should be concerned and angered.
The chancellor, Provost Richard Lariviere, Atkinson, the governor and a handful of Johnson County legislators have been pushing a plan to give away the KU Medical Center and KU Hospital brand name to St. Luke's Hospital. The proposed deal includes the medical school providing St. Luke's 100 medical residents a year to help improve medical care at St. Luke's and help that hospital strengthen its position in Kansas City, Mo.
KU leaders have tried to sell the story that the only way KUMC and KU Hospital can attain a National Cancer Institute or Comprehensive Cancer Center designation is for KU to provide residents to St. Luke's.
This has been disputed by an individual who is one of the nation's most respected professionals in the field of helping medical centers receive cancer center certification. He said the excellence and scope of clinical cancer research is the critical factor in a medical center or hospital attaining the highly prized designation, not whether a hospital has an arrangement to exchange or provide residents to a hospital such as St. Luke's
It's a phony argument! Those favoring such a plan claim that if KU doesn't give in and provide the doctors, St. Luke's will hook up with Washington University and Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. This, too, is a phony, hollow threat because several senior Washington University officials have said they know nothing about such a plan.
Time and time again, those pushing the St. Luke's affiliation come up with new arguments to try to convince a trusting or gullible public or a lazy Kansas Board of Regents that the KU giveaway is a sound move for the university and would do no harm to the medical school or hospital.
In fact, the almost-fanatical defense and support of the giveaway by Hemenway, Atkinson, Sebelius and a few others raises suspicions about what may be behind their support of a plan that does no good for the medical center or the state. Consider:
¢ Why would the governor become so entwined, trying to manipulate the placement of directors on the hospital board? Why get her feet muddied when she is concerned about her future political career?
¢ Longtime, knowledgeable Kansas legislators say they cannot remember any time in his tenure that Hemenway has spent so much time prowling Capitol hallways trying to get lawmakers to support his position.
¢ Speaking of lobbying, there are many situations that appear to be conflicts of interest. It is interesting to note, for instance, that Kathy Damron, a highly regarded lobbyist, represents both St. Luke's and the KU Medical Center. Adkins, vice chancellor of external affairs at the medical center, reportedly hired Damron some time ago, putting in place an effective spokesperson who is being paid by both St. Luke's and KU to sell their story to state legislators. Why wouldn't KU use its own lobbyist, at least to give the impression it was acting on a matter in a sound, independent manner rather than bowing to St. Luke's interests?
¢ Why would KU want to sign up with St. Luke's, whose other recent affiliations with hospitals in the Kansas City area have not proven to be bell-ringers?
¢ Hemenway has lost respect both on the Lawrence and Kansas City campuses because of his handling of the hospital matter. Likewise, the Board of Regents has been exposed as a weak, lazy body (almost in a fog) that doesn't exercise any meaningful oversight of the universities for which it is supposed to be responsible.
¢ The arrogance of many representing the university has been exposed to an even greater degree, and this does not play well with state legislators. It is not going to make things easier for KU's future requests to lawmakers.
¢ Hemenway recently sent a three-page, single-spaced letter to a fairly wide audience in which he justified all his actions concerning the hijacking of the KU medical school and KU Hospital. In the letter, the chancellor tries to correct what he calls "misconceptions" about the affiliation plan. He concentrates on trying to paint KU Hospital as the bad guys. He doesn't mention her specifically, but it is obvious he and Atkinson will do whatever they can to damage the reputation of departing KU Hospital CEO Irene Cumming. In the letter, Hemenway notes the fiscal success of the hospital but suggests it has been keeping too many dollars for itself rather than sharing those funds with the medical center.
¢ Hemenway also makes it clear he and Atkinson want more control over the doctors, who are a major factor in the ongoing medical civil war. Hospital directors say they believe the doctors should be able to control their own destiny and they do not intend to hand over control of the doctors to Atkinson and Hemenway.
¢ Negotiations between the hospital and medical school are under way with the doctor situation and the revenue issue being two of the most contentious points. One participant in some of these discussions said, "The last session was the worse such session I've ever been a part of."
¢ Hospital board members also say they believe it is important for the board to have representation at these sessions and be fully aware of what is being proposed before they are asked to approve any agreement.
¢ Contrary to what Hemenway may claim, such as "the KU Hospital is concentrating on building its cash reserves" as opposed to handing over more money to the medical center, it should be remembered that KU Hospital officials offered KUMC $400 million over 10 years to maintain the current relationship between the two entities. Atkinson turned down that offer, saying there were too many conditions she would not accept.
¢ It appears the newest "deadline" set by St. Luke's boosters for an agreement is likely to come and go just as previous deadlines have. With state legislators looking into the legality of Sebelius' handling of hospital board appointments, the probability of a number of audits of the medical school's financial dealings and yet-to-be determined details of any relationship with St. Luke's, it would seem wrong to rush into any agreement with St. Luke's.
¢ Kansas House Speaker Melvin Neufeld and Rep. Jim Morrison deserve the thanks of all Kansans for refusing to be knocked over by Hemenway and his fellow lobbyists who have tried to pressure them to back off on questioning the hospital deal. When the secret meetings started almost two years ago to slip this KU giveaway past state legislators, some in Kansas City said, "Don't worry; no one in Topeka will pay any attention to this." Thank goodness for Neufeld and Morrison. It is hoped other lawmakers will demand to know more about what Hemenway, the governor and others have tried to manipulate behind the backs of lawmakers, the Board of Regents and the public.
There are many other disappointing or ugly facets of this mess, but it is hoped any agreement that may be reached will be far different than what Hall, civic leader Irv Hockaday, St. Luke's CEO Richard Hastings, Hemenway, Atkinson, Adkins, some folks at Stowers Institute, Medical Center Chief of Staff Shelley Gebar and a handful of Johnson County legislators had hoped to mastermind.
As one hospital director noted, "after all these months of exposure after exposure, isn't it interesting that during all the efforts by the St. Luke's people, Hemenway and the KU medical school proponents to push the giveaway plan, the talk has centered on three things: politics, power and greed, with nothing said about patient care."
This has not been a proud period for those trying to sell out the KU medical school and KU Hospital.