Michael Karpf, who oversaw huge expansion of UK HealthCare, to retire in 2017

Michael Karpf, who led UK HealthCare as it mushroomed in size over the past 13 years, has announced he will retire next year.

The actual retirement date will follow a national search and an “appropriate transition period” for his replacement as the University of Kentucky’s executive vice president for health affairs, a news release said.

UK officials said that under Karpf’s leadership, UK has invested almost $2 billion in new facilities, faculty, programs and technology, as well as forging new partnerships with regional health care institutions. In the past decade, hospital patient discharges have nearly doubled from 20,000 a year to almost 40,000.

“I am convinced that UK HealthCare is the greatest success story in modern academic health center history,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “This is not grandiosity. The numbers show it. The faces and stories behind those numbers paint an undeniable picture of progress, compassion and care.”

Karpf, 71, said he plans to transition to a part-time faculty position working on health policy issues and plans to stay involved in the art program he started at UK HealthCare, in which numerous Kentucky artists’ work is displayed around the medical center.

“These past 13 years have been challenging but immensely rewarding to me personally,” Karpf said. “I respect the colleagues with whom I have worked, especially the faculty and staff in UK HealthCare.”

Former President Lee Todd hired Karpf from UCLA, where he also oversaw the university’s medical center. Karpf soon outlined a vision of making UK HealthCare a regional powerhouse that would dominate specialized care well beyond the Bluegrass into West Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee.

He formed regional partnerships in Eastern Kentucky, Louisville and Cincinnati and pushed successfully for a National Institutes of Health designation of the Markey Cancer Center as a National Cancer Center. Most recently, Karpf announced satellite medical school programs at Western Kentucky University and Morehead State University.

Kentucky House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said “the partnerships he formed with Morehead State University and St. Claire Regional Medical Center to help educate more health care professionals in and for Eastern Kentucky will greatly improve quality care in our region for many years to come.”

Karpf, who makes $882,000 a year, also pushed bigger and more modern facilities. Pavilion A, a 12-story tower of patient rooms and medical departments, is still being outfitted.

Karpf’s emphasis on highly complex medical care, however, sometimes came at a price. In 2012, UK suspended its pediatric cardiology program after an uptick in mortality rates for babies, including at least two babies who died while in UK’s program. An internal review recommended better training for both doctors and nurses and a dedicated ICU.

Earlier this year, Karpf announced a partnership where pediatric heart surgeries at UK would be performed by a heart surgeon with a primary appointment at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Karpf also is part of a whistleblower lawsuit filed by UK surgeon Paul Kearney, who was stripped of his clinical privileges for using abusive language toward co-workers and one patient. Kearney alleges that Karpf targeted him after the surgeon started asking questions about the financial dealings of UK HealthCare and the Kentucky Medical Services Foundation.

News of Karpf’s planned retirement triggered a stream of statements from community leaders who praised his leadership.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the retirement a “great loss for the University of Kentucky and for our commonwealth.”

“He’s made a transformational impact on UK thanks to his vision and leadership,” McConnell continued. “He was instrumental in bringing competitive health research funding to UK, and in earning national recognition and additional funding for the university’s Markey Cancer Center.”

Bob Quick, president and CEO of Commerce Lexington, also called Karpf’s work “transformational.”

“Healthcare is economic development,” he said. “So if you look at what he has done, he has totally transformed it. His goal was to make this not just a regional center for Kentucky, but a regional center for many states. That relates into many more high-paying jobs.”

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said Karpf has made a lasting contribution to Lexington’s economy.

“Today, health care is one of the strongest parts of the Lexington economy, thanks in part to the investments of UK HealthCare in new facilities and through the good jobs it has created,” he said.