May 28, 2023

The World Company logo

Hospital Merger?

How long will it be before Lawrence Memorial Hospital and Kansas University Hospital officials work out a mutually rewarding association or merger?

A relationship that would be good in many ways for both hospitals but more importantly….good for patients and the public.

LMH officials recently announced plans to build a $94 million, 200,000 square foot hospital/health care facility on the northwest corner of Lawrence and at the same time maintain and update facilities at the current hospital at 325 Maine Street.

Although no specific details have been disclosed, it is understood the new facility would focus on ambulatory/outpatient services and sports-related procedures with the current hospital taking care of those needing multi-day hospital care. Apparently the new facility will be authorized or licensed to have more serious patient facilities but at the outset, such services will be at the current hospital.

How the two facilities will operate and coordinate their services is a bit fuzzy or undecided at this time.

What isn’t fuzzy is that medical care is changing. Most every other business, whether retail, automobile, publishing, manufacturing, aviation, photography, video, etc. all have undergone tremendous changes in recent years. However, health care and the delivery of health care has been slow to make major changes.

One of the big changes in medical care is the move to shorten the length of hospital stays, more ambulatory care and the merging of health care facilities.

The growing competition for Lawrence area patients from nearby hospitals in Kansas City and Topeka and the desire to expand the attractiveness of medical services available in Lawrence to a wider geographic area is the major reason LMH officials decided to build the large, costly facility.

The Kansas City competition comes from Kansas University Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital and from Topeka’s Stormont Vail and the former St. Francis, now a part of the University of Kansas Health System, hospitals.

It’s good LMH officials have a positive and optimistic outlook relative to the future medical and hospitalization needs of a growing Lawrence area population as well as going after business from a wider area.

In past years there were meetings among LMH doctors and administrators relative to possible working relationships with either KU Hospital or St. Luke’s.

Former LMH president and CEO, Gene Meyer, had close ties with St. Luke’s prior to his move to Lawrence and there was divided support among doctors and administrators as to whether it would be better to develop some kind of a tie with KU Hospital of St. Luke’s. Informal votes were taken but eventually the possibility of a merger with either hospital was put on hold.

Over the past 18 years the excellence, growth and national reputation of KU Hospital has been astounding. It ranks among the nation’s best in numerous medical specialties and in the recovery record of seriously ill patients. The combined assets and excellence of KU Hospital and the Kansas University School of Medicine provide patients with superior expertise and care.

St. Luke’s is a very good hospital and for years was considered the best in Kansas City but in recent years KU Hospital has been recognized as number one and most comprehensive.

LMH has improved greatly in recent years and today has a very good medical staff. In fact, it has been honored several times as one of the country’s 100 best hospitals among communities the size of Lawrence. A number of highly trained and skilled doctors moved to Lawrence due to the growing reputation of LMH.

Russ Johnson, the new LMH president and CEO, has initiated changes at the hospital and he came to Lawrence from the Denver hospital environment where there are numerous hospital mergers and associations. He knows the many good things that can come about through hospital mergers as well as being alert to potential dangers of mergers if not done correctly.

Bob Page, president and CEO of the University of Kansas Health System has proven to be an extremely successful, effective and visionary leader and he realizes a close relationship, merger or some kind of an association with LMH could be a winner on all fronts…the hospitals, patients and the excellence of medical services for an even wider geographic area. The public’s access to superior health care is sure to become an even more important asset in the coming years.

With KU being the largest employer in Lawrence and with more than 25,000 KU students and thousands of KU alumni in the greater Lawrence area, it seems reasonable to believe these individuals would naturally seek medical care and advice from a KU or KU-related medical facility.

It is understandable why some or many doctors favor practicing and operating in “their” hospital rather than being part of a larger hospital network. They like their independence and feeling of being able to have a voice in their own operation. They don’t like taking orders from someone in a distant hospital.

At the same time, there are many positives and advantages of combining the excellence of several hospitals—both for doctors and patients. In today’s environment where mergers become necessary due to business and economic survival, independent, smaller, stand-alone hospitals are going to face increasing fiscal challenges in order to maintain and provide excellent services.

There are benefits for all parties in a sound, balanced and visionary relationship between LMH and KU Hospital. Overall, it is a win-win situation.

Again, how long will it be before a LMH-KU Hospital merger becomes a national model for success?