The University of Kentucky will ask the state for permission to add 120 beds to its hospital, a 14.5 percent increase that would bring the number of beds to 945.
Dr. Michael Karpf, vice president for health services, disclosed the hospital's plan to ask for a certificate of need in an Op-Ed column in Sunday's Herald-Leader. The article was in response to a Herald-Leader story Aug. 22 about average wait times in the emergency room. That average time — 10 hours and 44 minutes — is the longest in the state, 41/2 hours longer than the national average and 31/2 hours longer than the state's only other trauma hospital at the University of Louisville.
Karpf and hospital efficiency experts disagree about how to decrease those wait times. He said that adding beds was the only answer, while others suggested better communication and planning within the hospital was the proper corrective measure.
Karpf said getting approval for the beds is unrelated to finishing the $763 million hospital tower project at UK.
He said in an interview Monday that the tower was never intended as a hospital expansion but as a shift of beds to better equipped, more modern space.
So, he said, if the 120 beds are approved, "parts of Chandler (Hospital) we thought might be closing will stay open."
In 2006, the state approved a certificate of need allowing UK to create a facility to replace 192 beds in Chandler Hospital. That has become known as the tower project. Currently, half of the 12 floors in the tower are essentially empty.
When the tower project was announced in 2004, it was to cost $400 million and be completed by 2009.
Karpf later said the tower would be completed in 2021, but during a June retreat he told the UK Board of Trustees he couldn't offer a time frame for the project's completion.
Karpf said the 120 beds, if approved, would be put in place during the next couple of years. He said that the cost of adding the beds would be minimal, but that 1,000 to 1,500 new employees would be needed. He couldn't estimate the cost of the additional employees Monday.
Karpf talked at the June retreat about the changing health-care economy in Kentucky under the federal Affordable Care Act. He said it was likely that some hospitals would close. KentuckyOne, which operates St. Joseph and St. Joseph East in Lexington, announced a $218 million shortfall and laid off 500 employees in February.
On Monday, Karpf said that while overall hospital stays across the state might go down about 3 percent, the complicated cases targeted by UK would increase by 11 percent.
UK filed a letter of intent July 31 to obtain the certificate of need. It is the first step in the process that could take months to gain state approval for the 120 additional beds.
The state's health plan requires hospitals to apply for a certificate of need before adding beds to a facility to avoid duplication of services and to make sure health needs are met across the board.
UK has until Oct. 1 to file the formal application. "Affected parties," defined in state law as anyone who gets health care in the geographic area served by the hospital, other facilities that provide similar care or third-party payers such as health insurance companies, may request a public hearing about the need for the beds. The deadline to do so would be Dec. 5.
KentuckyOne Health had no comment on UK's plans. BaptistHealth, which owns BaptistHealth Lexington, also had no comment.
According to Kentucky's Office of Health Policy, 50 certificates of need were approved during the first six months of the year. Three were denied.
Karpf had no doubts that the expansion would be approved. "We know we meet all of the criteria," he said.
The state will review the need for the beds, the economic feasibility of the additional beds and the quality of services at the hospital before deciding whether to approve the request.