Editorial: Welcome news about hospital

KU hospital’s interest in acquiring St. Francis hospital in Topeka is a silver lining in a cloudy situation.

The University of Kansas Health System’s interest in financially troubled St. Francis Hospital in Topeka is welcome news.

KU hospital president and CEO Bob Page said that the hospital will offer a proposal to acquire St. Francis in a partnership with Ardent Health Services of Nashville. “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.

St. Francis has been on the market for more than a year, and the hospital’s parent company, Denver-based SCL Health, said recently that it will not operate the hospital beyond this summer. St. Francis has 378 beds and employs an estimated 1,600 people in the Topeka area.

The financial crisis at St. Francis spurred intensified efforts by Topeka business leaders to identify a buyer. Gov. Sam Brownback has been at the forefront of those efforts and it was his office that announced KU hospital’s interest in St. Francis.

California-based Prime Healthcare Foundation Inc., also has expressed interest in St. Francis, but by the end of last week a clear preference had emerged for KU to close the deal. The acquisition would be a natural fit for KU hospital, which earlier this year embarked on a rebranding effort to better reflect its role beyond the KU hospital campus in Kansas City, Kan., which of late has increased its role as a statewide health care provider. In addition to its affiliation with the KU Medical Centers in Kansas City and Wichita, the hospital has relationships with Hays Medical Center, Stormont Vail in Topeka, North Kansas City Hospital, Cornerstones of Care at Marillac, and KVC Behavioral Health. The hospital system recently opened an orthopedic clinic in Lawrence.

It’s important to note that no deal has been struck, and there are no guarantees one will be. St. Francis has struggled in the shadow of the larger Stormont Vail Hospital, and that likely won’t change with an acquisition by KU. Also, St. Francis officials have said Kansas’ refusal to expand Medicaid services as allowed by the Affordable Care Act has been a significant factor in the hospital’s financial woes. There’s no indication that will change — legislators tried to expand Medicaid earlier this session, but Brownback vetoed the bill.

Still, KU hospital’s interest in keeping the hospital open is good news for Topeka, the region and the state. It also stands to be a major win for Brownback, who could use one after being relegated to the sidelines by low approval ratings for much of the legislative session.

Given the alternatives, it’s hard to see a downside to KU hospital acquiring St. Francis. Here’s hoping a deal gets done.