Op-Ed

What is UK HealthCare hiding from the public?

University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital.
University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital.

Gov. Matt Bevin recently made a 2-percent mid-year budget cut to Kentucky’s public universities, which led to a lawsuit by Attorney General Andy Beshear.

That lawsuit is now the subject of an appeal after Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate issued his opinion stating that Bevin had the authority to make those cuts.

Universities across Kentucky all stated that such cuts will lead to layoffs and tuition rate increases. While universities deserve the best and even more resources, our two leading universities — the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville — were not always transparent about how they managed their finances.

During the last decade, both U of L’s and UK’s administrative ranks swelled and university administrators garnered Wall Street-style salaries.

University of Louisville President James Ramsey’s total compensation of $1,682,176 was three times that of the average compensation of presidents at 10 similar universities. The Kentucky state auditor is now investigating the University of Louisville Foundation, which manages the university’s endowment, as Ramsey received significant compensation from the foundation.

UK President Eli Capilouto is little different than his counterpart at Louisville. UK also has its own secretive foundation, Kentucky Medical Services Foundation, which commands a budget of more than $200 million a year.

The Kentucky attorney general recently ruled that KMSF is a public entity founded, managed and controlled by UK — despite the foundation and UK’s attorneys’ insistence that KMSF is a private entity and not subject to state open-record laws.

“As a state agency, it would ill behoove us to ignore the opinion of the attorney general,” former UK General Counsel John Darsie said in 1991. At one time, that was the university’s official position. That seems like a very long time ago at a university far, far away.

Today, General Counsel William Thro strikes a very different position on public access (or, rather, blocking public access) to the university’s budget-related records, especially records concerning UK HealthCare management.

During the past year, two successive attorneys general repeatedly determined that the university has illegally withheld public access to financial records about the medical foundation, agreements with Coldstream Laboratories, Inc., and five years of minutes from a committee advising UK HealthCare on compensation policy.

Even more starkly illustrative is the university’s refusal to provide access ordered by Kentucky’s own attorney general to these secret records. The university wrote that the attorney general (and public) must instead trust that the university’s mere “explanation is sufficient.”

What is the university administration hiding from the public? What other secrets about UK budget policy and practice remain, but which eventually must yield to the light of public view?

Is Capilouto’s general counsel also speaking for the UK Board of Trustees? If not, then the board needs to fix this before it has been lured so far out on the limb that there is no painless way back.

Dr. Lachin Hatemi, a graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, is an Indianapolis physician who has filed open-records requests about the medical foundation.

At issue: May 24 Herald-Leader article, “UK found in violation of Kentucky open records law”

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