KU hospital to put in bid for St. Francis hospital in Topeka

St. Francis Health Center in Topeka.

? The University of Kansas Health System said Thursday that it is interested in acquiring the financially troubled St. Francis hospital in Topeka.

In a letter to St. Francis’ parent company that was released by Gov. Sam Brownback’s office, KU Health System president and CEO Bob Page said that it will partner with Ardent Health Services of Nashville and will offer a proposal to acquire St. Francis.

“We understand the critical role of St. Francis Health in the Topeka community and beyond — both in terms of the vital care provided and the economic stability as a major employer,” Page said.

The KU hospital now becomes the second potential suitor for St. Francis, which came to the brink of closure last week after being on the market for nearly a year without anyone offering to buy it.

Over the last weekend, California-based Prime Healthcare Foundation Inc., said it, too, was interested in acquiring the hospital.

Page, however, said he believes the KU system would be in a better position to absorb St. Francis.

“We believe health care for Kansans, by Kansans, is critical to thriving communities and to the state,” he said, noting that KU recently partnered with Hays Medical Center in western Kansas to enhance services provided by that community hospital.

St. Francis is a 378-bed hospital that employs an estimated 1,600 people in the Topeka region. But for many years, it has been in intense competition with neighboring Stormont Vail Health, a larger hospital with many more affiliated specialty clinics.

Many people in Topeka were expecting St. Francis’ parent company, Denver-based SCL Health, to announce on April 18 that it planned to close the hospital.

Under intense pressure from the Greater Topeka Area Chamber of Commerce, the city of Topeka and Brownback’s office, however, SCL announced that day that it would hold off for two weeks while still trying to find a buyer. Either way, however, SCL said it would not continue operating the hospital beyond this summer.

St. Francis officials have said that its contract for cardiology care expires on June 30. In addition, a contract for ER services expired in September, but the outside company that provides ER staffing has continued to work since then under terms of the old contract. That company has said it will not continue that arrangement beyond June 30.