UK board diligent in oversight of hospital services

August 19, 2013 

We live in an era of increased scrutiny of all institutions, particularly large ones whose mission is the public's trust.

We expect universities to educate the children who will determine our future. And we want to know that medical professionals are doing everything possible to care for our loved ones when they need it most.

That's the backdrop for Dr. Kevin Kavanagh's Aug. 11 piece, which asks whether the University of Kentucky's Board of Trustees is demanding accountability from UK HealthCare and its leadership in light of the voluntary decision to temporarily suspend pediatric cardiothoracic surgeries.

As the governing board for Kentucky's flagship institution, we have an obligation to set a policy direction for university officials to implement and demand progress toward defined goals.

We have a responsibility to hold President Eli Capilouto, Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Michael Karpf and other administrators accountable across a complex $2.7-billion enterprise that includes UK HealthCare, athletics, the extension service and 16 academic colleges that educate nearly 30,000 students.

That's our job. And we are doing it.

How are we fulfilling these fundamental responsibilities? Consider three steps we are taking as a matter of committed practice:

First, the UK Board, composed of 20 members, meets seven times annually. Each time, a committee composed of five members and five at-large leaders from the community meets to review performance and report to the full board on quality and patient care.

In 2012-2013, for example, the board received 10 comprehensive updates — written reports and presentations from hospital leaders — regarding a host of measurements, including patient safety and patient outcomes.

Additionally, board members are engaged in a number of other activities, including ongoing updates where patient safety, performance measures and outcomes are further analyzed. In fact, in June, our health care committee and much of the board met for a daylong retreat to assess progress and plan ahead.

At the retreat, leaders of the national University Health System Consortium reported about UK HealthCare. Their role is to take the raw data provided by the hospital and then analyze, validate and compare performance statistics against what other academic medical systems provide so that we have an objective basis to gauge where we stand relative to other high-quality centers.

In the consortium's rankings, UK HealthCare ranks 11th out of 108 for our mortality performance among academic health systems, where the most complex care is provided to the sickest of patients.

Second, as part of that commitment to transparency, under Karpf's leadership UK HealthCare launched a transparency website in February — ukhealthcare.uky.edu/quality — that includes measurements regarding patient safety, outcomes, patient satisfaction and an array of others. As an institution committed to a culture of openness, we will continually be adding more data as we move forward.

Third, and finally, we are committed to building — not for ourselves, but for the future of our state. Kavanagh cavalierly castigates the recent building of the new Chandler Medical Center. However, we are building and investing in new infrastructure and technology so that we can create greater access for more Kentuckians to the care they need.

It's a $1 billion investment that will allow us to treat more patients with the most acute illnesses. Over the last 10 years, former UK President Lee Todd, Capilouto, and the Board of Trustees have embraced Karpf's vision that Kentuckians, no matter their walk of life or where they live, should wake up knowing that the most complex of care doesn't have to occur outside the commonwealth.

Because of UK HealthCare, these patients can now stay close to home and not go out of state for their care. We stand behind a vision that has resulted in nearly 36,000 admissions last year in our hospital — nearly double what it was 10 years ago.

Moreover, contrary to what Kavanagh contends, we are not building while forsaking a network of care. In fact, someone should speak with hospital leaders in places like Rockcastle County, Georgetown, St. Claire in Morehead, Norton HealthCare in Louisville, the ARH System in Hazard and Harrison Memorial in Cynthiana, among others, to understand the value to patients of the virtual network of care being established.

They will tell you why physicians from Kentucky and beyond referred some 12,000 complex patient cases, among others, to UK HealthCare last year.

Any institution truly committed to excellence understands improvement can always be made. A culture of excellence, transparency and accountability, after all, is a goal with no end. It is an ongoing process to which there must be an unyielding commitment. On this board and at UK HealthCare, there is that commitment.

Dr. Britt Brockman is chair of the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees. Barbara Young is chair of the UK Health Care Committee.

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