Dr. Michael Karpf has changed the face of Lexington, the University of Kentucky and health-care delivery in much of Kentucky since he came here 14 years ago.
Karpf, who retired this month, was hired by then-UK President Lee Todd Jr. as the first executive vice president for health affairs — with oversight of UK Hospital, UK Children’s Hospital, Kentucky Clinics and other health programs.
Karpf’s strategic focus and drive were soon evident and their impact quickly felt.
Under Karpf, UK invested almost $2 billion to improve and expand medical programs. It created partnerships regionally, providing underserved populations access to more sophisticated medical care. Karpf formed partnerships in Louisville and Cincinnati, as well. Under him, the Markey Cancer Center earned designation as a National Cancer Center by the National Institutes of Health. Last year, UK began satellite programs at Western Kentucky and Morehead State universities, extending access to training in medical professions.
Karpf’s work has also been a boon to the regional economy. “Health care is economic development,” Commerce Lexington CEO Bob Quick said last year, and Karpf’s work has been “transformational.”
Karpf also led UK’s health systems in supporting regional artists, buying their work to display in the hospital. With $5 million raised privately, UK purchased over 300 works by some of Kentucky’s most respected painters, improving the experience for patients, their families and employees.
Karpf’s remarkable career at UK has also been marred by disturbing missteps and a tendency toward secrecy. In 2012, UK suspended its pediatric cardiology program after child deaths rose there but stonewalled attempts by news outlets, including the UK public radio station, to get more information.
A UK surgeon, Paul Kearney, has filed a whistleblower lawsuit, saying that after he began asking questions about the financial dealings of the Kentucky Medical Services Foundation he was targeted for discipline. Former chief financial officer Sergio Melgar, hired by Karpf in 2004, also filed suit, saying he was fired in 2012 after complaining that he wasn’t being paid as much as people in similar roles.
And, then there is the pay. Karpf will continue to receive his $900,000 salary in the first year of his retirement to advise UK President Eli Capilouto on state and federal health-care issues. Following that, he will make $200,000 a year as a part-time medical college faculty member. His successor, Mark Newman, has a starting salary of $1,111,500.
These pay levels are well within industry standards, but they are striking because Kentucky is a poor state and poverty is one of its great health challenges.
Here’s hoping that Karpf, as he studies health policy, and Newman, a native Kentuckian, will guide UK toward playing a more aggressive public role in preventing disease.
That could mean pressing the General Assembly to pass a meaningful statewide smoking ban, or sounding an alarm about the toll environmental hazards take on Kentuckians’ health.
Karpf has moved mountains to give Kentuckians access to world-class health care close to home. He can extend his laudable accomplishments by working hard in “retirement” to help them lead better lives in a healthier home state.