Earlier this week, Kansas University Hospital officials hosted their first Hall of Fame Dinner and Awards Celebration. The Kansas City affair was not a fundraising event but rather an opportunity to tell the history of the hospital and to honor several individuals and companies who have played a significant role in the hospital’s relatively recent and tremendous climb in excellence and national recognition.
In 1905, three private medical schools in Kansas City — the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Kansas City Medical College and the Medico-Chirurgical College — merged. In 1906, Dr. Simon Bell donated land and more than $100,000 to establish the original Eleanor Taylor Bell Hospital in honor of his wife.
KU records report that in the same year, 1906, the School of Medicine moved into the hospital located on “Goat Hill” in Rosedale, now Southwest Boulevard and Seventh Street in Kansas City, Kan. The hospital was moved in the 1920s to its present location at 39th Street and Rainbow Boulevard.
Obviously, over the years, there were ups and downs for the hospital, but in the mid-1990s, the hospital had reached a critical point.
As KU Hospital President and CEO Bob Page told the audience at the Hall of Fame celebration, the hospital had gotten to the stage where there were only three options: Close it down, try to sell it or make a radical change.
This is where the honorees’ part of the evening’s program began. As the program stated, “The University of Kansas Hospital’s Hall of Fame recognizes individuals and organizations that have shared our vision and been instrumental in our continuing transformation. Their leadership, advocacy and philanthropy have immeasurably contributed to our success.”
Those cited were former KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway; Dr. George J. Farha, Wichita, who in 1999 took the reins of the newly formed KU Hospital Authority; Annette Bloch, Kansas City, who made a landmark gift of $20 million to the hospital; the Polsinelli Shughart law firm; and the United Excel Corp. construction company.
All of these individuals and companies played major roles in the creation of the Hospital Authority, building hospital facilities and the almost-unparalleled transformation of a close-to-failing hospital into Kansas City’s finest hospital, one that is excelling and topping numerous health care measurements.
This writer, however, would like to single out former Chancellor Hemenway for his pivotal role in the hospital’s turnaround.
It was Hemenway who had the vision, courage and commitment to realize that unless hospital officials took radical action, the hospital’s future was in serious doubt.
This writer does not know whether it was Hemenway’s idea alone or one shared by several, but whatever the case, he was front and center, and he called for the hospital to be removed from state control and allowed it to become an independent public authority. It was indeed a radical concept, but it appeared to be the only way to allow the hospital to grow in excellence, service to the community and profitability.
The first time Hemenway tried to get legislative approval for the separation from the state, he was rejected, but he tried again, and the second time, he won. He had the help of many, particularly Sen. Dave Kerr, but it was Hemenway who made this his crusade.
Since that time, in 1998, the hospital has blossomed under the leadership of former hospital President and CEO Irene Cumming and now Page, along with the strong support of the hospital’s board, headed by Hemenway for the first year and then by Farha, who supplied determined and skillful leadership. The current board chairman is Bob Honse of Lawrence. The Honse-Page team is determined not only to maintain the current level of excellence at the hospital but also to elevate hospital services in every respect. There will be no letdown.
Being a chancellor is a tough and demanding job. It is a tiring job that takes a toll on the individual who sits in the chancellor’s chair at Strong Hall. In Hemenway’s case, it was apparent to many he was tiring the last three or four years of his tenure. Unfortunately, the Kansas Board of Regents either failed to realize the situation or they knew and didn’t have the courage or compassion to take any action. This writer believes it is the latter and they should have figured out a way to relieve Hemenway in a positive, dignified manner rather than to let his tenure end the way it did. He deserved better and, hopefully, new members of the Board of Regents will make sure the entire board is far more aware of what is going on at the schools they oversee.
The hospital’s Hall of Fame dinner last week was a grand affair in every respect. Particular congratulations should go to Hemenway, Farha, Bloch, Cumming, Honse and current board members.
The state of Kansas and thousands upon thousands of current and future patients will benefit from the vision, actions and generosity of these and countless others.