Negotiations between Kansas University Hospital and KU Medical Center soon may test whether KU Provost Richard Lariviere is still a member of the hospital's board.
Hospital leaders say they have removed Lariviere from the board because state statutes don't allow for him to serve as an ex officio, voting member of the board. But Lariviere contends only Gov. Kathleen Sebelius can remove him. Lariviere has said he intends on attending future meetings and wants to be allowed to vote.
That includes an important upcoming meeting where KU Hospital board members are scheduled to approve details of a proposed affiliation agreement with KU Hospital and the KUMC that would transfer additional hospital funds to the medical center. The hospital board also may be asked to weigh in on a controversial proposal for KUMC to affiliate with Kansas City, Mo.-based St. Luke's Hospital. That meeting is scheduled to happen in late May or early June.
Whether Lariviere will be allowed to vote on those issues was up in the air on Thursday.
"When a roll call vote is taken, I suppose that is when the rubber meets the road," said Amy Jordan Wooden, a spokeswoman with KUMC, to whom Lariviere referred all questions.
The hospital board met Tuesday to deal with several routine items. Lariviere attended the meeting, but was told by board chairman George Farha that he would not be allowed to vote on items, hospital spokesman Dennis McCulloch said. No roll call votes, however, were taken at the meeting. Lariviere was allowed to participate in board discussion as a "guest of the board," and also was allowed to attend a closed-door executive session.
Lariviere, in saying that he should be allowed to stay on the board, has noted that it was Farha who originally said in late 2006 that Lariviere should serve as an ex officio member of the board.
McCulloch, though, said the hospital board has since reviewed the state statute creating the board, and now realizes that it clearly does not allow for Lariviere to serve on the board as an ex officio member. The statute lists six positions within the KU system that are to serve as ex officio members. Lariviere holds none of the positions.
"We don't deny that we made a mistake," McCulloch said. "The board made a mistake in believing that he could fulfill that role."
McCulloch said the board was trying to accommodate the wishes of the governor, who had expressed an interest in Lariviere serving on the board.
Lariviere also has argued that he has a Dec. 20 letter from Sebelius appointing him to the ex officio position. Because of that letter, he said he feels it would be improper to step down.
But the letter did not appoint Lariviere to the board. It said the governor "would be proceeding with the appointments" of Lariviere and five other members to the board. But the governor has not yet officially nominated any of those members to the board.
In an interview with the Journal-World last week, the governor's press secretary, Nicole Corcoran, said Sebelius did not end up nominating anyone for the board. Corcoran also specifically said the governor did not appoint Lariviere to the hospital board because Sebelius realized that the state statute makes no provision for the governor to appoint ex officio members to the board. Corcoran said the governor simply acknowledged the board's appointment of Lariviere, and took in "good faith" that he was legally eligible to serve.
Corcoran on Thursday said that was still the governor's position, and was reserving any further comment on the Lariviere position pending the attorney general's opinion.
Two key legislators on Thursday asked Attorney General Paul Morrison to issue a legal opinion on the issues. Sen. Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, and Sen. Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, asked Morrison about the Lariviere issue and 13 other questions. Those other issues include questions about what process the governor must follow when appointing board members and whether individuals who have not officially been appointed are allowed to participate in board discussions.
Lariviere said he would abide by any legal opinion that Morrison produces. Leaders of the hospital board stopped short of saying that. McCulloch said if Morrison's opinion on the Lariviere issue was different from the board's attorney, hospital board members would have to decide whether to accept the attorney general's opinion - which is nonbinding - or undertake "a quote, unquote friendly lawsuit."
A spokeswoman with the attorney general's office said there was no timeline for when the opinion would be completed, but it likely would take several weeks.