September 25, 2023

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Lawrence Memorial Hospital Future

One of these days, probably sooner than some might expect, Lawrence Memorial Hospital officials are likely to face a serious decision relative to the future status of the hospital: Will it remain a totally independent, stand-alone hospital or will it develop some kind of an association or working relationship with a larger hospital?

Health care is changing and it’s going to be increasingly challenging for hospitals the size of LMH to remain independent, fiscally sound, and able to grow in excellence and offer patients the latest and best services.

Unfortunately, there are fewer “independent” stand-alone businesses, small or large, grocery stores, lumber yards, publishing companies, car dealerships, department stores and/or hospitals.

“Private” entities are being bought and merged into larger conglomerates….or they quit business.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital is not immune to this possibility.

Some years ago there was serious discussion among LMH doctors and administrators about developing a relationship with either KU Hospital or Kansas City’s St. Luke’s Hospital.

This possibility was brought before Lawrence Memorial Hospital leaders several times; there were a couple of informal votes along with strong and opposing opinions. No decision was made.

However, in recent months there has been renewed attention given to the possibilities and/or advantages of developing a closer relationship with KU Hospital.

KU Hospital clearly is the top hospital in the greater Kansas City area and is nationally recognized for its excellence. In fact, a recent U.S. News & World Report study cited KU Hospital as one of the nation’s top 16 hospitals, out of a national survey of 5,000 hospitals, for their excellence in 11 medical specialties.

KU Hospital is a better hospital today than it was “X” number of years ago when there was discussion about some kind of a merger. LMH also is a better hospital today than it was when merger plans were considered.

For many reasons, it would seem to make even greater sense today to consider some kind of a collaboration between the two hospitals – good for both hospitals and good for patients.

KU Hospital is nearby and there is a natural affiliation between the thousands of KU employees here in Lawrence and the growing staff at the KU Medical Center.

KU Hospital and Hays Medical Center have entered into a cooperative relationship and KU officials have visited with other Kansas hospitals about possible ties or associations.

LMH is a good hospital, one of the best for a community the size of Lawrence. Revenues have been good, management has been sound and the positive fiscal situation presents an attractive possibility for acquisition by a larger medical operation.

However, last year although revenues increased roughly $18.4 million to $221.8 million compared to the previous year, the hospital’s operating margin dropped to $13.7 million compared to a margin of $18.2 million in 2015.

If some kind of an affiliation or cooperative relationship is reached between LMH and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and/or the development of a mutually funded “crisis center”, chances are there will be added expenses for the hospital.

Most any change in the operation, management or ownership of a hospital triggers strong and differing reactions from doctors, administrators and the public…whether in Hays, Lawrence or other cities. Those associated with the local hospital do not like giving up their independence and local identification and local residents may not like the idea of tying up with a larger, out-of-town medical center.

However, reality shows mergers or other types of relationships among hospitals are taking place throughout the country for economic reasons AND for better health care for patients. Most every aspect of health care is changing.

If LMH and KU Hospital were to develop close cooperative ties, it would make the broad range of medical specialties at KU Hospital available for Lawrence area residents. Also, perhaps operational costs could be reduced and there is the possibility an intern or residency program could be established at LMH. Maybe KU Hospital could take advantage of the excellent services and training at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.

News about Topeka’s St. Francis Hospital shutting its doors and the subsequent announcement by KU Hospital officials they plan to make a bid for the 378-bed hospital that lost more than $115 million over the past five years could have a major impact on whether KU Hospital continues to have an interest in a relationship with LMH. KU Hospital leaders may back off in their interest in an association with LMH and Lawrence could lose the opportunity of a fruitful tie with KU Hospital.

The uncertainties in health care are changing the health care landscape almost on a daily basis.

The recent move of long-time and popular Lawrence orthopedic surgeon, Mark Randall, from Lawrence-based Kansas Ortho to the University of Kansas Health System sports management and performance facility at 18th and Wakarusa here in Lawrence could be a tip of a medical iceberg with KU Hospital expanding its footprint in Lawrence.

As noted above, changes are coming faster and faster in all aspects of medical treatment and the merging of hospitals. It is both important and timely LMH officials continue to be committed and focused on doing what is best for its patients today and tomorrow.