KU Hospital, Med Center forging new partnerships

Since it moved from state control to an independent authority about 15 years ago, the Kansas University Hospital has grown rapidly, spending millions on new facilities and services.

Now it’s undergoing a new type of expansion: new partnerships with other health groups in the Kansas City area.

Along with the KU Medical Center, the Hospital in the past year has announced two significant alliances: a new pediatrics program with Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, and a new cancer program based at North Kansas City Hospital.

These sorts of partnerships are likely to become only more common for KU Hospital in the coming years, said Bob Page, the hospital’s president and CEO.

That’s partly because of the hospital’s vastly improved reputation since it moved away from state control 15 years ago, when it was on the verge of bankruptcy, Page said.

“In the beginning, quite frankly, we weren’t really attractive as a partner, because we were not in the best shape as an organization,” Page said. “And we’ve worked really hard to right the ship.”

Another factor is that the health care reform brought on by the Affordable Care Act will likely encourage many hospitals to pursue new alliances, he said.

“I think hospitals all across the country are in conversations, probably daily, if not weekly, looking for potential partners,” Page said.

The reforms could increase some costs for hospitals because of decreased reimbursements for hospitalizations, Page said, so hospitals may seek to grow larger to increase their economies of scale.

That also means the medical field will shift much of its focus toward care that takes place outside of the hospital, keeping patients from being hospitalized in the first place. So KU and other hospitals will also try to form partnerships with other health organizations that provide care before or after hospitalization.

That’s one reason for another of KU Hospital’s growth efforts, Page said: a new inpatient rehabilitation center to be located in a mixed-use development called 39Rainbow near the hospital.

As for the partnerships announced in the past year, Page said the other hospitals were selected because of their strength and their cultural similarities with KU.

Officials still are working out the particulars of the agreement with Children’s Mercy, originally announced in December 2012. But they say they hope for the alliance to result in an integration of the pediatrics programs at the two institutions that would involve the research and education taking place at the KU Medical Center as well as clinical care.

“That’s really what we would like to get to, is for Children’s Mercy to be a major affiliate of KU Medical Center, much as our own hospital is, in terms of how we work together, both for education and research and for clinical care,” said Doug Girod, the executive vice chancellor for KUMC. He noted that Children’s Mercy would keep its affiliation with the University of Missouri-Kansas City, as well.

At North Kansas City Hospital, the KU Cancer Center — which combines the hospital’s care with KU Medical Center’s research and education — will provide care through radiation oncology and medical oncology programs in North Kansas City, Mo. The program launched on July 1.

The KU Cancer Center’s new National Cancer Institute designation helped spur that partnership, Page said. “As the only NCI-designated cancer center in the area, we have a strong responsibility to the community to provide cancer care services,” he said.

When Page described the idea behind the North Kansas City alliance, he could well have been referring to the Children’s Mercy partnership as well — or perhaps future agreements likely to come down the road.

“You’re taking two organizations that are very similar in culture, two of the leaders in quality care in the community, and you’re bringing them together,” Page said. “And it’s all focused on the patient.”