Who could have ever imagined that Kansas University Hospital would be mentioned in the same breath as the Mayo Clinic, KU Hospital CEO Bob Page asked rhetorically Thursday afternoon.
Back in the 1990s - when the hospital was crippled by lack of funding, scandalized by a report of a heart transplant program that wasn't transplanting hearts, and dealing with aging infrastructure and unhappy patients - it would have been hard to believe the hospital had much of a future.
But confirmation came this week that those bad old days are specks in the rearview mirror.
On Thursday, a report listed KU Hospital as the fifth best academic medical center in the country, based on the effectiveness and quality of the care it delivers to patients.
Joining KU at the top of the list were Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.; Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston; Methodist Hospital-Clarian Health at Indiana University; and Rush University Hospital in Chicago. The rankings were prepared by the University HealthSystem Consortium.
"We will show this award off proudly," Page said by phone from Palm Springs, Calif., right before he picked up the award at a UHC conference. "It's absolutely rewarding to stand with the best hospitals in the country."
This is the third year UHC has prepared its Quality and Accountability Study. In that time, KU soared from 33rd overall to fifth, out of more than 80 academic medical centers across the country.
Dr. Mark Keroack, UHC vice president and director of the clinical practice advancement center, said few hospitals can tout the kinds of increases in performance seen at KU Hospital. He said the report reflects the totality of patient care provided by these hospitals.
Keroack said the rankings are based on specific data on patient safety, mortality, effectiveness of patient care and equity of patient care. To score in some specific categories, such as effectiveness, a hospital had to give its patients every desirable, available therapy for their specific condition.
A good hospital, for example, not only would give someone experiencing a heart attack an aspirin at admission and a beta-blocker at discharge - but also would make sure to expose a patient to a smoking cessation program, if appropriate.
"We did a survey where we looked at three of the best hospitals in our survey and three more average hospitals," he explained. "There are distinctive leadership qualities at the top hospitals that were not present in the middle institutions."
Page said the ascendancy of KU Hospital, confirmed by the UHC report, bodes well for Kansas residents.
"We have great community hospitals," Page said, "but there will be times in patients' diseases where they need to go somewhere else to get help.
"They should feel comfortable knowing that there is a resource in Kansas City that can take care of him."
Recently, KU Hospital created a collaborative group to consider how best to treat sepsis and other infections in patients across Kansas. Page said getting health care professionals from across the state to discuss that was one way KU Hospital was trying to improve the health of all Kansans, not just those within an hour or two of Kansas City.
"That's just the beginning of what we can do for Kansas," he said.
KU Hospital Authority Chairman Dr. George Farha said the increase in stature would not have been possible had the hospital and medical staff not worked together.
"It is a result of our attempt to provide unsurpassed medical care," Farha said. "There are three things you have to do: Have good doctors, have dedicated nurses and have a physical environment where patients feel comfortable and staff feel comfortable caring for patients."
Farha said KU Hospital has the good doctors, dedicated nurses and the environment - after more than $300 million in infrastructure investments in the past four years - to not only reach the lofty ranking but to exceed it.
"We're very excited to be No. 5, but we're not No. 1. We still have our work cut out for us," Page said. "A stated goal we've had all along is to be the best hospital in the country."