So far, it's been a battle of words.
How long this will last before it becomes a more bitter, "get-even" type battle is anyone's guess, but based on the history of the Kansas City hospital wars, St. Luke's Hospital officials are likely to attempt stronger measures to try to restore, maintain or improve their reputation and competitive position in Kansas City.
Several years ago, a small group of Kansas City boosters and senior St. Luke's officials - with the knowledge and cooperation of Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway and KU Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson - hatched a plan in secrecy to strengthen St. Luke's Hospital at the expense of KU Hospital and the KU medical school.
The justification for such action was that KU needed to have a close working relationship with St. Luke's if KU was to have any chance of being designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center.
St. Luke's boosters threatened if KU did not cooperate and accommodate St. Luke's wishes, they would enter into negotiations with Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, the Dana Farber cancer facility in Boston or M.D. Anderson in Houston.
This was a phony, hollow threat because St. Luke's does not bring enough cancer research and cancer care expertise to the table to strengthen KU's effort to obtain the CCC designation KU officials want so badly.
Eventually, an agreement was signed by St. Luke's, KU Medical Center and KU Hospital, but it was far less than what the Kansas City and St. Luke's leaders had fought for. When the public and Kansas legislators learned of the proposed giveaway, the one-sided deal was sidetracked.
St. Luke's people wanted to be able to expand clinical care with the assistance of a number of KU-trained medical residents. What they got was an agreement for a certain number of residents, the right to use the KU Medical Center name on the business cards of St. Luke's and its doctors, and an arrangement to engage in academic and research activities - BUT no clinical care.
St. Luke's did not get what it wanted. Those who had been so adamant in demanding certain concessions and giveaways by KU ended up with damaged reputations within the Kansas City community.
At one time, there was a lot of talk about these Kansas City leaders coming up with $150 million to $200 million in private philanthropic gifts from the Kansas City area to show their support of the proposed plan. So far, there hasn't been any further mention of this sizable fund.
In recent weeks, however, there seems to be a major public relations push by St. Luke's officials to get the public to believe St. Luke's is indeed directing and designing the affiliation agreements between their hospital and KU's operation. St. Luke's chief operating officer, Richard Hastings, is being portrayed as being instrumental in putting together a new Midwest Cancer Alliance Partners Advisory Board, as well as the Midwest Cancer Alliance. Hastings also made sure the KU brand was deleted from the Partners Advisory Board. It is significant that St. Luke's is merely one of several hospitals and research facilities tied into the Midwest Cancer Alliance when, at the early stages of the secret meetings, St. Luke's was to share the title with KU.
An expanded KU Advancement Board has been created, and these individuals will be selling the KU program, trying to raise fiscal and political support and spread the good word about KU.
St. Luke's, in addition to competing with KU as one hospital vs. another, has had a major chip on its shoulder ever since the large group of heart doctors left St. Luke's to move to the KU facility in Wyandotte County. This was a tremendous loss for St. Luke's, and they haven't gotten over it.
KU heart doctors recently moved into a new $77 million Center for Advanced Heart Care, a state-of-the-art facility to accommodate their growing practice.
It wasn't long before, in an act of one-upmanship, St. Luke's officials announced plans for a major expansion of their hospital and heart facility.
In an obvious attempt to keep selling St. Luke's and his leadership and an indication of his intense sensitivity concerning anything associated with KU, Hastings is quoted in a recent news story as saying, "If you go over to KU and look at what they built, they built what we built 25 years ago."
Bob Page, chief operating officer of KU Hospital, had said recently that KU Hospital has "the No. 1 heart program in this region."
The feelings are intense among St. Luke's boosters, and as noted earlier, so far it is a battle of words. Unfortunately, St. Luke's is likely to continue to try to redo the agreement it signed with KU to give it a greater role and voice in the arrangement. St. Luke's people are realizing there is relatively little money in the education and research side of the cancer effort with real money coming through clinical care.
St. Luke's has been cut out of clinical care, and there are no plans for a 1 million-square-foot cancer building on the KU campus or joint ownership of any clinical building, as Hastings has suggested.
Feelings are intense, and the actions and words of Hastings should make those at KU who worked so hard for the giveaway to St. Luke's now realize the real objectives and motives of the St. Luke's crowd. It was a one-way deal from the very beginning to strengthen and benefit St. Luke's.