Health & Medicine

UK aims to be a top regional medical center

The head of the University of Kentucky's health care system outlined to trustees this week his plan to move UK Hospital into the ranks of the top regional hospitals in the Midwest and Southeast.

Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health administration, said he firmly believes that, in the next decade, UK can be a dominant force, rivaling high-flying medical facilities such as the Cleveland Clinic and the medical complex at Washington University at Saint Louis.

The plan comes as UK prepares to unveil next month its new emergency room, the first component of its $762 million, 12-story hospital tower.

Karpf's plan for regional dominance includes concentration in specialties such as complex cancers, trauma and organ transplantation as well as teaming with smaller health-care providers statewide who, while getting the benefit of UK expertise, can then refer more complicated patients to Lexington.

That will be done, said Karpf, by focusing on those specialties and by building a network of regional hospital and physician partners.

To become competitive with other academic hospital powerhouses, UK will need to attract patients from surrounding states, such as Tennessee, West Virginia and Ohio, as well as from all parts of Kentucky.

UK has shown steady growth in what is most needed from academic health centers — the care of complex illnesses, said Tom Robertson, senior vice president at University Health Consortium in Oak Brook, Illinois — an alliance of academic medical centers and their affiliated hospitals.

In those illnesses, Kentucky is probably in the top third of academic medical centers, he said.

"It's what Kentucky needs of them. It's what America needs of them," Robertson said.

In an earlier interview, Karpf had said that UK was under no illusions about being the sole health-care force in Kentucky, but it wanted to be dominant regionally in the categories it had targeted: "We're not going to take care of every patient in town," he said.

Expanding rivals

That should be good news to the heads of the two other Central Kentucky hospitals that are expanding—Central Baptist and St. Joseph's.

Central Baptist announced in April that it is investing $200 million to update its Nicholasville Road complex with a seven-story addition including a cancer center and a women's center.

The hospital is not sitting still while UK moves ahead with its tower, which will open in sections and is not scheduled to be finished before 2020.

Central Baptist's 338,000-square-foot addition will be finished in 21/2 years and will completely change the look of the complex, adding much-needed parking and physician office space as well as making all hospital rooms private.

A few blocks to the west, Saint Joseph Hospital's sprawling campus offers an acclaimed cardiac care program with a recent $85 million expansion and upgrade. And it offers a second hospital off Richmond Road that just opened a $60 million, three-story women's hospital that could allow Saint Joseph to deliver 3,500 babies annually, up from the 2,000 it delivers now..

Saint Joseph plans to spend $150 million on a hospital in London, and is building a $56 million hospital to replace the current one in Mount Sterling.

Saint Joseph is also asking the state for permission to build a hospital at its $25 million Saint Joseph-Jessamine, RJ Corman Ambulatory Care Center in Jessamine County.

Robertson said that academic medical centers and ambitious local hospitals play a complementary role, and will continue to do so as the patient population dramatically expands and as health care reform progresses.

"With an aging population there's a role for community providers and there's a role for the university," he said.

University health systems traditionally look to other hospitals to take care of less complicated illnesses, Robertson said.

Cancer and transplants

UK's Karpf said his hospital stands ready to take care of the complex complaints. "We're the only bone marrow" transplant center in town, Karpf said. "Let's get real about who does research in cancer."

The cancer claim isn't deterring Central Baptist's President and CEO William Sisson, who sees a vigorous future in highlighting cancer care. In the new hospital, cancer patients will get their own entrance into their own treatment area. And he says that UK isn't the only organization that can get into the cancer research business, draw large numbers of cancer patients or offer such patients close-to-home comforts.

Sisson points out that Central Baptist recently received three-year accreditation by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers. It is the only other health provider in Kentucky to do so besides the University of Louisville.

Ken Haynes, president of Saint Joseph Hospital, Saint Joseph East and Saint Joseph-Jessamine, said the St. Joseph strategy "is very dissimilar to that of our competitors."

Saint Joseph is strong in east Lexington and can easily absorb medical traffic coming off Interstates 64 and 75, he said. And there's no extended rollout of the expansions and upgrades at the hospitals. "None of those are theories. Those are realities," he said.

More patients

The explosion of medical construction around Central Kentucky is not about just putting up more signs, claiming more territory: It's about the number of patients being treated, making their treatment more easily accessible for them and planning for the number of patients that will flood the system under national health-care reform — estimated to be at least 400,000 in Kentucky.

Central Baptist treated 9,300 patients from Madison County last year. That convinced the hospital to open a Richmond office in May, including an infusion suite for cancer patients.

"The less we inconvenience patients, the more we benefit the community," said Central Baptist's Dr. David Bensema.

And Sisson is grateful to still be in the Nicholasville Road area: "I think they (area residents) were fearful that we would leave this and there would be this open hole."

Depending on economic recovery and health-care reform, Sisson said, reconsidering what to build at Hamburg, where Central Baptist already has an outpatient office, may come sooner than the decade that Sisson originally estimated: "It may be five years or less," he said.

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