Our chief responsibility is to offer a balanced perspective on matters relating to health care. That's important because if the University of Kentucky is not responsive to community health care needs, its mission is both diminished and unfulfilled.
Kentucky is in the bottom 10 nationally in most of the significant health and economic indicators.
Our commonwealth needs a nationally leading academic medical center — an institution tackling complex health needs through cutting-edge research and the highest quality patient care.
Where is UK HealthCare in achieving vital goals?
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■ Over the past 10 years, the number of patients has increased by almost 100 percent, the result of strong partnerships with community providers and referring physicians. Patient volumes have nearly doubled, from 19,000 discharges annually to more than 36,000 projected for this year.
■ The patients need more complicated treatment and more specialized surgery — a result of the strategy of keeping local patients closer to home for the bulk of their needs, but bringing them to UK HealthCare for the most critical challenges, such as cancer, transplants and heart disease.
■ Patient satisfaction has dramatically increased. Last year, UK HealthCare was named recipient of the National Rising Star Award, an award to the major academic medical center that shows the highest level of improvement in overall quality and accountability.
■ During times when research budgets of federal agencies have tightened, UK HealthCare and the health colleges have continued to sustain and grow their research profiles.
■ Clinical and research growth is helping drive Central Kentucky's economy. According to a recent study of fiscal year 2013, the annual direct and indirect economic impact of UK's sponsored research across the campus was $581 million, with more than 8,000 jobs created and $21.3 million generated in local and state taxes.
And over the past 10 years, while increasing from an operating budget of $300 million to $1.3 billion, UK HealthCare has grown from 2,500 to 5,500 jobs.
These results reflect thoughtful leadership and a focused strategy. But three things need to happen for these critical strategic initiatives to be sustained:
■ Continue to recruit specialists and surgeons at a higher level than ever before.
■ Continue to form alliances with community hospitals throughout Kentucky and the region.
■ Improve and modernize facilities in a way that's flexible enough to adjust to conditions as they change.
The recent approval from Gov. Steve Beshear and the legislature to help fund a multi-disciplinary research building that will tackle significant health challenges is a critically necessary investment.
UK is one of only a handful of institutions in the country with federal designations of excellence for its work in cancer, aging and taking research discoveries from the lab into communities. But the university is virtually out of the space necessary to retain and recruit researchers.
At the same time, space is also an issue for our clinical operations, which must continue to expand. The new facility that opened in mid-2010 has been overwhelmed by the number of patients, resulting in unacceptable waiting times for patients to be treated and admitted.
We know we must continue to push for these issues to be addressed and applaud the leadership team's decision to open a new observation treatment area and implement other efficiency measures to better serve patients. Under construction also are several new hospital floors.
Similarly, UK HealthCare leaders couldn't have known 10 years ago that the community would need us to purchase Good Samaritan Hospital or that the state would ask us to partner in operating Eastern State.
Additional patient volumes, the needs of our community and state, and a turbulent economy — all compel UK HealthCare to be both strategic and nimble.
Our involvement as community members leaves us continuously inspired by the dedication and competence consistently on display. It is a "patients first" organization from top to bottom.
As members of this community, we wouldn't want it any other way.