Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is expected to sign the Kansas budget Monday for the fiscal year beginning July 1, as approved by state legislators; however, she is likely to veto a provision that calls for Kansas University Hospital and Kansas University Medical Center officials to agree on a mutual plan of operation and responsibilities before they can sign any kind of an affiliation with Kansas City's St. Luke's Hospital or any other health operation.
This provision was inserted because of the continued civil war within the KU medical operation in Kansas City and the desire by KU Medical School officials to promote an academic program with St. Luke's Hospital. KU Hospital officials oppose the plan, and it is an ugly situation being driven by KU Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson, Chancellor Robert Hemenway, several prominent Kansas City business leaders such as Irv Hockaday and Bill Hall, some at St. Luke's and Sebelius.
The plan to give away the KU brand was hatched in secrecy, and Atkinson, Hemenway and others had hoped to have it designed and approved by August 2006.
According to a timetable drafted by Atkinson, a teaching affiliation, research alignment and financial planning all would have been completed by "the week of August 15th."
There was no public discussion, no legislative review, no review by the Kansas Board of Regents. The plan by Atkinson, Hemenway, Hall, Hockaday, St. Luke's CEO Richard Hastings and some at the Stowers Institute was supposed to be a done deal in early January, before Kansas lawmakers gathered in Topeka for their legislative session. The Regents were in the dark as well as the public, although there is reason to believe Regent Dick Bond was tied into the project fairly early.
The consequences of this giveaway are serious, but every effort was made to jam this down the throats of anyone who questioned or disagreed with the scheme.
It wasn't until two Kansas lawmakers, House Speaker Melvin Neufeld and Rep. Jim Morrison took interest in the matter that ugly, dangerous facets of the plan started to surface.
The governor has tried to place hand-picked favorites on the hospital board, which is in violation of state statute.
The necessity of a plan to provide up to 100 KU-trained medical residents at St. Luke's in order for KU to receive National Cancer Institute designation has been justified by Atkinson, Hall, Hockaday and Hemenway by various shifting of arguments, all of which have proven to be false.
Because of serious suspicions, the state has ordered post audits of the KU Medical Center to see whether medical center officials have overextended their commitments and do not have the cash to meet these commitments.
Various deadlines have been set by St. Luke's officials as to when an agreement must be exchanged, and all of their deadlines have come and gone without any firm, written agreement.
KU Hospital officials refuse to roll over and play dead to a plan that they think is harmful to the hospital as well as the medical school.
There are many other ugly situations, but back to the governor's expected veto of the proviso.
Why would the governor, Atkinson, Hemenway or others be pushing this plan when there is so much disagreement and/or opposition within the overall medical facility in Kansas City, Kan.? Why would St. Luke's want to engage in a plan where two of the most important players - KU Hospital and KU Medical Center - are warring?
Why would anyone want to sign a deal when there are serious questions about the fiscal integrity of the medical center?
It doesn't make sense, and yet the governor is determined to do all she can to force an agreement between KU Medical Center, KU Hospital and St. Luke's Hospital.
The big question remains "Why?" Are there other considerations? Is big money involved? Is politics at the root of the problem, or is it egos, turf wars or what?
The sad thing with the governor's veto is that the KU Medical Center will now go ahead with its plan to support St. Luke's. Deals will be made; programs will be shifted from KU to St. Luke's (remember, it is a one-way street where KU gives everything and gets nothing); KU Hospital will be weakened, and there will be other serious consequences.
The other sad, almost tragic and unnecessary consequence is that the turmoil, infighting, questions about financial weaknesses, the loss of highly respected Irene Cumming as president and CEO of KU Hospital, and other factors could cause many top-flight medical school graduates from around the country not to seek resident positions at KU. Already, there are areas in the medical school that are not fully staffed by residents. And, according to recent reports, KU may be forced to withdraw some residents from a Kansas City hospital because of a shortage of residents. Wichita's medical operation will be hurt as well.
The first indication of such a situation may surface next March when medical school graduates try to match their choice of a medical school with resident openings at the 100-plus medical schools around the country. KU may not look very attractive.
Some of those such as Atkinson, Hemenway and KU Provost Richard Lariviere probably will be gone by the time the deep damage becomes apparent, and they will be quick to wash their hands of this embarrassing situation.
Because they are so consumed to give away and weaken the KU name, they have not considered the possible consequences, or they are so arrogant to believe that they know best.
Hopefully, Neufeld and Morrison will not wilt under the constant pressure and lobbying, the illegal actions of the governor and her attempt to take control of the hospital board.
Also, it would be helpful if the public and other legislators took more interest in what some are trying to do and how this will weaken KU Hospital and the KU Medical School.
The governor should not veto the provision calling for KU Hospital and KU Medical School to have a solid agreement before the medical school can sign any affiliations with St. Luke's.
The whole situation is a travesty.