September 25, 2023

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Unsung All-Stars

In a relative short period of 30 years, the Kansas University Hospital has transitioned from a poorly managed, almost-out-of-money hospital with dwindling patients, high turnover in faculty and doctors, poor staff morale with its leaders ready to put up a “Hospital For Sale” sign.  Today, it is recognized as the best hospital in Kansas City and, recognized nationally, for its many fields of excellence.

No single individual is responsible for this miraculous turn-around as it has been a true team effort.  Nevertheless, tremendous credit should be given to Irene Cumming, now Irene Thompson, who came to the hospital in 1994 as Chief Financial Officer.  She soon realized how serious the problems were and after she was named Chief Operating Officer in 1996, she ignited a fire and a philosophy among a small number of believers to change the hospital from a loser to a winner in every respect.

She was tough, demanding and did not accept excuses or half-hearted efforts.

She hired Bob Page who now serves as President of the Kansas University Health System which continues to grow in service, excellence, and national reputation.

In most successful organizations or teams, such as with a large business, a sports franchise, a private business, a city government, a Chamber of Commerce, or a hospital, there are those who capture the headlines and get well-deserved front-page treatment.

However, there are many highly successful and visionary individuals critical to the overall success of the operation, but who are not known or recognized by the public.  They do not get the front-page treatment.

A recent shift in senior positions at the Kansas University Health System took place with one very important individual changing jobs although it received little, if any, public notice or recognition.

Barbara MacArthur came to KUHS as a graduate of the University of Missouri’s nursing program.  She earned a masters degree in nursing at KU and began a truly illustrious 20-year career in various hospital nursing and administrative positions in Florida and Texas.  Five governors in three states appointed her to senior public service bodies.  She became active in national committees dealing with organ donation and transplantation, the national and international development and growth of life-saving organ donation and transplantation by applying public policy into clinical practice.  MacArthur was named an Annenberg Fellow in Public Policy Communications, a highly prized recognition, along with many other prestigious honors and recognitions.

She returned to KU 11 years ago and served on the Executive Team of the Health System and as Vice President of Cardiac Services.  Over these 11 years she has been committed to doing whatever she could to help make the entire Health System as excellent as possible.  She has been on call 24 hours a day, recruiting new doctors, telling the KU Hospital story, and doing anything she could to help make a visit to the hospital by a patient, parents of a patient or a member of the public a successful and enjoyable experience.  By the way, it may come as a surprise to many in Kansas City, but currently the KU heart program is considered to be the best in the Kansas City metro area.

Like Irene Cumming, she has a vision and commitment for excellence.  They both can be tough and demanding, but also compassionate and helpful.

Several weeks ago, she announced she was shifting positions and would become a part of the faculty of the School of Nursing.

She wants to do what she can to encourage women and men to consider a career in nursing, to become aware of the personal and professional opportunities, achievements, and rewards of nursing.  Her involvement with the School of Nursing will be in the areas of innovation, partnerships and practices, teaching, recruiting, inspiring, stimulating and bringing energy to nursing efforts.  Just as she was active in recruiting the very best doctors for the KU Hospital, she intends to do what she can to recruit top candidates for the KU School of Nursing as the demand for skilled nursing is bound to continue to become more intense in the coming years.

She may have cut her formal ties with her executive roles at the hospital, but she still retains an important and close relationship with the many and varied doctors, nurses, and staff at the hospital as they seek her advice, encouragement, and friendship.

The public should realize there are so many other highly talented, motivated and committed doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital and medical school.  Doctors such as Dr Mark Wetzel, Dr. Rita Hyde, Dr. Hirak Shah and others who deserve public recognition, but apparently the Standard Operating Procedure for many hospitals is to underplay the excellence of specific members of the overall team.

Far too often, it is easy for mistakes within the medical fraternity to gain public headlines.  Why not spend a bit more time telling the positive stories and careers of those behind the face masks and hospital gowns?  Millions of dollars are spent trying to sell the excellence and values of individual hospitals and/or clinics to attract patients.  How about spending some of these dollars to recognize the excellence and uniqueness of those within the hospital who make the difference between an average or a truly outstanding center of medical care?

The Barbara MacArthurs, the Drs. Wetzel, Hyde and Shah, Medical Assistant Marina Ruiz and others like them, need and deserve public recognition and thanks for their excellent service.