Simons: Closed-door meetings still pursuing K.C. hospital deal
October 13, 2007
A small handful of powerful, determined, self-serving Kansas City businessmen, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway, KU Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson, several St. Luke’s Hospital advocates and former Yale University president Benno Schmidt are putting on a full-court press to try to jam a one-sided, giveaway plan down the throats of KU Hospital and KUMC officials to strengthen St. Luke’s at KU’s expense.
The effort has been under way for close to two years, much of the time in secrecy and with no effort to seek the approval of Kansas legislators, the Kansas Board of Regents or KU Hospital board and staff members.
Schmidt was hired by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation to come up with a plan that would look good and sound good to strengthen Kansas City, Mo. The effort was titled, “Time to Get It Right” and called for a citywide collaboration among medical research facilities.
After the original study was made public, the St. Luke’s crowd, Hemenway, Atkinson and a couple of Kansas City proponents broadened the study, calling for an educational effort among KUMC, KU Hospital and St. Luke’s.
Threats were made if KU Hospital officials and board members did not roll over and acquiesce. They said if an agreement between St. Luke’s, KUMC and KU Hospital was not signed by this past January, St. Luke’s would sign an agreement with Washington University and the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. No agreement was signed, and the blackmail effort proved to be phony. Another deadline was set and, again, no agreement. The Kansas City and St. Luke’s group said the Washington University deal was still on as well as an offer by the Dana Farber people in Boston and M.D. Anderson in Houston.
Again, a hollow threat, and there still is no firm agreement.
Why Hemenway and Atkinson are so obsessed with a one-way deal with St. Luke’s raises many suspicious questions. There’s little question why Sebelius is so committed: It’s all about what’s in the best interests of her future political career and the vital fiscal support she will need to pursue her dreams.
In the last several weeks, there have been some interesting new developments:
¢ A private meeting was held in Topeka with Sebelius, Hemenway, Atkinson, Dr. Roy Jensen of KUMC and a few others. The purpose was to figure out how to speed the approval of the giveaway to St. Luke’s.
These individuals continued to say the alliance with St. Luke’s was necessary if KU was to have any chance to be named a National Cancer Center facility.
This is not true. Those who continue to use this argument are not being honest with the public or state legislators. St. Luke’s does not add enough cancer research and patients to make the difference on the NCC designation. It would be far more significant to have KU develop an affiliation with the Kansas City Oncology Center, which handles 60 to 70 percent of outpatient cancer care in Kansas City.
¢ Last Friday, another meeting was held, chaired by Schmidt. Schmidt, Hemenway, Kansas State University President Jon Wefald, the head of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and others gathered to plan the next “summit meeting” to be held in Kansas City in January or February where Sebelius and Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt will meet and sign some kind of feel-good agreement of understanding and cooperation between KU and St. Luke’s. This is the agreement that was supposed to have been signed last January, then last March and still hasn’t been agreed to.
At this meeting, it is reported Schmidt berated Hemenway, perhaps three or four times, for not getting the hospital deal nailed down.
What business is it of Schmidt, a hired hand, to chide Hemenway or any other KU chancellor?
¢ A few days ago, Sebelius announced the appointment of Johnson County banker Robert Regnier to the KU Hospital Authority board.
The news story said Sebelius wanted to fill seven board positions. The hospital is governed by a 19-member board; 13 represent the public and six are ex-officio voting members who are there because of their positions at KU.
The idea of the governor appointing the public members is misleading. The statute creating the hospital board calls for a committee of board members to nominate two or three individuals for each board position. These names are to be forwarded to the governor who selects one of those nominees.
Sebelius already has tried to load or pack the board with individuals she can control or who will vote the way she wishes. KU Provost Richard Lariviere took one of the ex-officio seats on the board, but after questions were raised, Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison said the provost was not listed in the statute as an ex-officio member, and Lariviere could not serve in that role.
In an earlier instance, Sebelius refused to accept the recommendation of the nominating committee. She will continue to try to pack the board with individuals who owe an allegiance or some debt to her.
¢ Currently, there is another nasty situation relative to the hospital.
A group of KU nephrologists (kidney doctors) have announced plans to work with an independent Kansas City, Kan., dialysis facility where they would treat patients who could pay their full bill. Those who couldn’t pay, the indigent and others, would be handled by KU Hospital with the hospital or state picking up the tab.
The doctors would end up with a far better financial return, working with patients at the independent medical facility rather than taking care of indigent patients at KU Hospital.
According to some reports, Atkinson and Hemenway have approved or at least have not objected to the plan, and the approval of the hospital board has not been sought.
Consequently, some hospital board members are considering legal action against Hemenway and Atkinson for failure to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities for the hospital. Why would they OK such a scheme for the doctors if it wasn’t in the best interests of the hospital? Why approve a plan that could take away income for the hospital? This again raises the question of why they would favor a giveaway to St. Luke’s.
This entire KU Hospital, KUMC and St. Luke’s battle is a mess and an embarrassment. It didn’t have to happen this way.
It will be interesting to note the reaction of state legislators toward KU when they convene in January. KUMC officials, including the chancellor and Atkinson, have said they don’t have any obligation to seek the approval of legislators for the agreement with St. Luke’s or any details of the plan until after it is signed. In other words, they have told lawmakers to butt out.
The regents have covered their eyes and ears and said they have full confidence in the chancellor and whatever he wants to do is OK with them.
The state and its taxpayers deserve something far better. And, to compound the matter, the public has not been told the truth..
Originally published at:http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2007/oct/13/simons_closeddoor_meetings_still_pursuing_kc_hospi/