Several years ago, a well-organized, behind-closed-doors effort was launched to strengthen St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., at the expense of the Kansas University Medical Center and KU Hospital.
At the outset, those at the meetings were a handful of Kansas City’s power elite, some St. Luke’s officials and several from KU Medical Center. KU officials in Strong Hall were part of the planning, but representatives of the KU Hospital were purposely left out of the discussions.
There was much phony window dressing to try to portray the plan as a major step in developing closer working relationships between the two states. A well-publicized blueprint titled “Time to Get it Right” was used to justify a closer collaboration between St. Luke’s and KU. In reality, the plan was little but a giveaway to St. Luke’s that would weaken KU’s position in greater Kansas City.
One of the major arguments in favor of the giveaway was that the only way KU had a chance of winning the coveted designation of a national cancer center would be to have a partnership with St. Luke’s Hospital, which wanted a 50-50 split with KU in clinical cancer care.
Time and time again, various Kansas City leaders said if KU wouldn’t allow St. Luke’s to partner with them in the cancer effort, the KU plan would fail. They also said if KU didn’t agree to St. Luke’s wishes, St. Luke’s would partner with a cancer center in Boston or one in Texas or with Washington University in St. Louis.
It was, and remains, puzzling that several KU leaders, both in Lawrence and at KUMC, favored the giveaway. They didn’t acknowledge it was a giveaway or that the plan was hatched in secrecy.
Apparently, they were motivated by their desire to please certain individuals in Kansas City and gain their favor by agreeing to the one-sided St. Luke’s effort.
Irene Thompson (formerly Cumming), who then was the president and CEO of KU Hospital and had done a terrific job in a 10-year period to bring the hospital to the No. 1 position in greater Kansas City, was strongly opposed to the one-sided deal with St. Luke’s. She did not roll over and fought any efforts to weaken or handcuff the hospital and its continued growth.
Having fought the good and successful battle, she resigned and currently is president and CEO of University HealthSystem Consortium in Chicago.
Bob Page succeeded her as KU Hospital CEO and he, too, is determined to build the hospital into a superior facility.
After months of phony threats by St. Luke’s representatives and their followers and with behind-the-scenes support from KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, KUMC Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a watered-down agreement between St. Luke’s and KU was signed.
In the eyes of many, it was a big deal.
So big that a much-heralded ceremony was held in Kansas City at which Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt and Sebelius signed an agreement that was said to be evidence of the great sense of cooperation between Kansas and Missouri.
The agreement called for St. Luke’s to pay KUMC $1 million a year and for KU to provide a certain number of KU-trained resident physicians to St. Luke’s. There were many other agreements, including that St. Luke’s people would be able to claim on their business cards that they had a professional relationship with KU.
Also, although it wasn’t in the formal agreement, Kansas City leaders said they would raise between $150 million and $200 million to be given to the community foundation, which would make it available to both KU and St. Luke’s hospitals and/or medical facilities.
Now, two years later, and after all the super-positive statements by St. Luke’s backers, the threats and phony claims about KU’s national cancer center effort and the historic agreement signed by the governors, what has happened?
According to various individuals close to the scene, the answer is “little, if anything.”
“The deal is off,” according to one official.
KU has not seen anything of the $1 million a year St. Luke’s was supposed to pay. “Not one dime,” according to a KU person. And KU is not supplying residents to St. Luke’s.
And no one at KU has seen any of the $150 million to $200 million that was to come from Kansas City philanthropists through the Kansas City community foundation.
Likewise, there have been no announcements by St. Luke’s officials of signings between their hospital and medical centers in Boston, Texas or St. Louis.
Once again, a lot of false and hollow threats and promises.
KU Hospital continues to grow in excellence under Page’s leadership, and the KU effort to be designated as a national cancer center remains on target. The KU medical school seems to be getting along fine without the assistance of St. Luke’s.
Now Hemenway is retiring as KU chancellor, and KU Provost Richard Lariviere is headed to Oregon. Hemenway had supported the St. Luke’s plan and Lariviere had tried to become a member of the KU Hospital board.
Hopefully, those on the search committee to find a new KU chancellor will tell applicants of the KU Hospital and medical school relationship and the recent efforts by some in Kansas City to force the giveaway to St. Luke’s. Also, some members of the search committee should make their own positions on this matter known to applicants.
These are extremely important times for the university, and all applicants should be fully informed about what they might be inheriting.
In the St. Luke’s situation, it would be a serious mistake to believe they have abandoned their efforts to use the KU medical school and KU Hospital to strengthen their own operation.