Congratulations to officials of Kansas University Hospital, which was recognized this week as one of America's finest teaching hospitals. After surveying 83 such hospitals, the University HealthSystem Consortium named KU Hospital the fifth best academic medical center in the country in terms of quality and safety.
This is a tremendous achievement given that 10 or 11 years ago, the hospital was almost at the bottom of this national ranking. It is a tribute to all of those associated with KU Hospital: the professional leadership, the hospital board and those who staff the hospital, from the most senior surgeons to the people who keep the place neat, clean and inviting. It also reflects credit on those who have instilled a spirit of enthusiasm and a desire to be friendly and greet patients with a smile.
It is a collective effort, but perhaps former CEO Irene Cumming deserves special mention as it was under her watch that the hospital made a meteoric rise in its national ranking.
Cumming was committed to doing what she could to make the hospital as good as possible. She had the support of her board, and her No. 1 interest was to take care of the hospital, those who work at the hospital and those who come to the hospital for medical care. She had to leave KU because of political pressure from the governor and some in Kansas City who did not like her and wanted her out of the way. It is a major loss!
Today, KU Hospital is greater Kansas City's No. 1 hospital. This being the case, it is difficult to understand why KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, KUMC Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius are so eager to force actions that Cumming said could weaken and damage the hospital, as well as the KU Medical Center.
Those who spearheaded the effort 10 or so years ago to make the hospital a stand-alone facility, not a part of KUMC, also need to be congratulated and thanked for their vision. Hemenway and state legislators played a big role. Free of the former paralyzing state control, the hospital blossomed under the leadership of Cumming, her staff and board of directors.
This raises an interesting point.
If the hospital can undergo such a dramatic turnaround and be recognized as the nation's fifth best teaching hospital, why can't the same chemistry be applied to KU's Mount Oread operation? Why shouldn't various schools within the university academic umbrella be able to soar to much higher national rankings than they now occupy? How about the School of Business, the School of Engineering, the College, the School of Law, the School of Fine Arts and other academic centers?
It takes leadership, vision and courage. There certainly is the talent on the Lawrence campus, but for some reason, there has not been a sense of urgency, the vision and the commitment to make KU one of the nation's finest state-aided universities. There's a lot of talk, but unfortunately, not enough action. There is far too little excitement.
The story of KU Hospital shows what can be done. They have set an example. Now, how about a switch being thrown on Mount Oread, unleashing the tremendous talent among faculty members and students and bringing about a new mood of enthusiasm, pride and national recognition for KU's excellence.
The late KU Chancellor Franklin Murphy used to say, "There will be a massive forest of universities in the trans-Mississippi west, but among this forest of schools, there will be a few giant redwoods. We want KU to be one of those redwoods."
This still should be the goal of KU, its leaders, faculty members, state legislators, regents, students and Kansas taxpayers.
It can be done with inspirational, tough, demanding, encouraging and supportive leadership.