Kansas City, Kan. Members of the Kansas Board of Regents on Monday seemed unanimous in their support for broad affiliations between the Kansas University Medical Center and area hospitals.
But, as has been the case in this discussion for some time, the finer points were harder to come to. The regents had a number of questions for KUMC Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson during a group visit to the campus Monday evening.
They wanted to know how these affiliations would bring more doctors to rural Kansas. They wanted to know about getting clinical trials in cancer research to hospitals around the state. And they wanted to know what advantages there were for KUMC, St. Luke's and KU Hospital in the new affiliations being negotiated.
For the most part, they left satisfied.
"These plans have big advantages for the entire state," said regents Chairwoman Christine Downey-Schmidt. "Several of my questions were so we could all hear the advantages to the entire state."
Officials at KU Hospital are concerned that any affiliation between KUMC and St. Luke's has the potential to harm KU Hospital's competitive position and dilute the brand it has built. State Rep. Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, has said that he wants any agreement between St. Luke's and KUMC to come only after an agreement between KUMC and KU Hospital.
Atkinson said Monday that the St. Luke's agreement came first because hospital authority members wanted to see that agreement before completing the KU Hospital-KUMC affiliation.
Downey-Schmidt said she was excited to hear about the possibility for cancer drug clinical trials at hospitals around the state. Atkinson told the group she expected to conduct Phase I clinical trials at at least four hospitals in the state, including Via Christi and Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Stormont-Vail in Topeka and KU Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., as well as at St. Luke's in Missouri, assuming an affiliation can be reached there.
Downey-Schmidt said without those agreements, there's no way KUMC can develop the patient base in order to get National Cancer Institute designation and be eligible for the kinds of clinical trials she hopes to see around the state. Phase II and III clinical trials, which are less demanding, Atkinson said, could be done at hospitals from Dodge City to Salina.
"I think the affiliation with St. Luke's is critical," Downey-Schmidt said. "There's no doubt we cannot achieve NCI designation without more patients and more physicians being trained."
Downey-Schmidt said she expects the regents to be briefed regularly on the progress KUMC makes in developing new affiliations, but she said the regents have already taken the affirmative steps she thinks need to be taken. Since Jan. 1, the regents have three times issued statements in support of the actions KUMC is pursuing.
Newly appointed Regent Gary Sherrer walked out of the briefing with much more information than he went in with, he said. He said that it's his view that KUMC is at a critical juncture and must decide what path to take.
"Change is inevitable," he said. "You just have to pick the right direction to go. If you do what you've been doing, you're going to limit some opportunities."
But Sherrer said he didn't expect to be a rubber stamp on the affiliation decision.
He said that any decision that has an effect on policy, budget or the legislative process "shouldn't occur without the majority of regents supporting it."