Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

‘Bleeding from a thousand cuts’

KU Med Center feeling pain of budget reductions

December 14, 2009, 12:00 a.m. Updated December 14, 2009, 4:13 p.m.


At Kansas University Medical Center, state budget cuts are forcing enrollments down, hampering an effort to obtain National Cancer Institute designation and causing additional staff reductions.

Only about 2,400 students pay tuition on the KU Medical Center campus, leaving its budget much more reliant on state funding than other regents institutions in the state.

And yet, when it comes to allocating state cuts over the past year and a half, the medical center has had to absorb similarly sized hits as other universities.

Ed Phillips, vice chancellor for administration at KU Medical Center, said the $14.4 million in lost state funding since July 2008 is about equal to the entire combined budgets for the School of Nursing and the School of Allied Health.

Nearly 70 percent of the medical center’s state revenue and tuition dollars are tied up in personnel, Phillips said.

It’s likely KU will continue to have to limit or reduce enrollments in the schools of nursing and allied health, and the cuts are beginning to have an impact on the effort to achieve National Cancer Institute designation, Phillips said.

While the Kansas Bioscience Authority provides some funding to recruit new faculty, the ability to retain them once they arrive is compromised, because of a reduced ability to pay for salaries, space and other infrastructure, Phillips said.

“It’s the state budget that provides for those things,” he said.

State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, is the minority leader in the Kansas House, and he said the state may begin to look at eliminating some tax exemptions or tax credits as officials work to resolve upcoming budget issues. But, he said, there’s still “a good deal of anxiety” about raising taxes in a difficult economic climate.

“When the Legislature began looking at budget cuts, I was concerned that we would start impacting some real vital investments that the state has made, and certainly the Cancer Center is one of those programs that we want to see succeed in the future,” Davis said.

The cuts have had a direct impact on employees, as well. Seventy-nine positions have been sliced from the payroll — including 46 layoffs — and an additional 360 employees have been shifted to other sources of funding.

For example, a typical professor in the School of Medicine is a medical doctor who has two sources of income — money from the state for teaching and instruction, and clinical revenue from seeing patients.

As state money has dwindled, Phillips said, KU Medical Center has, in many cases, forced professors to do more clinical work to maintain their incomes.

Therefore, he said, doctors are seeing more patients, and have less time to spend on instruction.

“And you can see the vicious circle that gets you in,” he said.

Gary Gronseth, an associate professor in the Med Center’s neurology department, said his department has adapted fairly well so far, in adding more patients without having to sacrifice much on the teaching side.

“Right now, we’ve been able to bend fairly easily with the breezes,” Gronseth said. “But if the budget keeps getting cut, eventually, in the out years, something’s going to break.”

Karen Wambach, associate professor of nursing and chairwoman of KU Med’s faculty assembly, said that for the most part, people continue to proceed with business as normal.

Still, the threat of additional layoffs and potential furloughs, which have not yet been deemed necessary, looms, she said.

“I think that anybody in higher education is thinking about (budget issues) every day,” she said.

Many KU Medical Center employees essentially have one-year contracts that expire annually on March 31, Phillips said. Because some budget reductions came after that date this year, the Med Center has relied on stimulus dollars to temporarily sustain its staffing levels.

Phillips said that even if state budgets aren’t cut any more, it’s likely that the medical center will lose at least another $2.7 million in the next fiscal year to replace stimulus funds, and likely at least another 50 positions along with them.

“We’re bleeding from a thousand cuts,” Phillips said. “And to continue to do that becomes very difficult without making major programmatic changes.”


firebird27 8 years, 6 months ago

As proud as KU alumni may be of their university, the KU Med School is not a highly ranked medical school (No, I did not attend MU). In the US News & World Report, KU is not ranked in research. There are just too many med schools ahead of KU Med. KU will always find some way to show that KU is ranked in some sub-category, but KU Med School just does not have the resources to be a top-flight med school. I wish I was wrong in drawing this conclusion.

StrangerCreek 8 years, 6 months ago

But it is a Division of KU and it's suffering financially and it serves a very important purpose and thus it needs support. Dido the Main Campus. Perhaps they could move some excess funds out of the Athletic Division account to help pay expenses. That's what we do in the business world. All Divisions of the Primary collectively support each other. Naturally a perpetually bleeding Division is eventually sold off or shut down. Maybe the University could start to sell off some bleeding Divisions if things don't get better.

Of general cost cutting measures I can think of several options. Sell off the English Division. Everybody has spell check. French? Who goes there anymore anyway. Geography? I've got a GPS. History? I've got the History Channel and it can also cover for Anthropology. Sell off campus buildings they can't afford to repair and maintain for condo conversions.

I mean, surely we're not going to see Division layoffs or important program offerings dropped because other Divisions won't contribute their excesses to the Primary's general health? Surely not.

blindedbyscience 8 years, 6 months ago

When a government institution has to have layoffs (only 46 people) they think it is the end of the world. This is what non government institutions do all the time. Unlike the real world of industry, the KU Med Center will never go out of business. It will never feel the real pain of Sanofi-Aventis in Kansas City, or Fort Dodge Animal Health in Overland Park, etc. KU Med Center has a few funding problems and the sky is falling. The KBA has provided more to the KU Med Center than just money for attracting a few researchers. Almost every tax funded institution would go out of existence if it really had to pay for itself.

brickston 8 years, 6 months ago

Perhaps the profitable "KU Hospital" could support the "University" that provides its purpose.

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