October 24, 2023
This is not my blog. It’s a blog about The University of Kansas Health System. The people who let me write it have given me blessing to insert some of my own life experiences into it. That’s a dangerous offer to a former TV anchor/reporter. We have no problem talking about ourselves.
With this subject, I can espouse for days. The 25th anniversary of when The University of Kansas Hospital became an independent authority and eventually The University of Kansas Health System is easily the most fascinating storyline for me beyond the daily miracle treatments and cures we perform here.
But there’s no way I was going to tell the following story. Until I read it in the book.
My first encounter with the hospital
My wife, Barbara, and I moved to Kansas City 25 years ago this year. I arrived on the steps of Fox 4 WDAF-TV from a station in drop-dead-gorgeous Lynchburg, Virginia – otherwise a lifelong Midwesterner who started a broadcasting career in small Kansas towns. My second week on the job in KC (second week!), I got sent out on a breaking news story about a baby who had been abducted from “KU Med.” That’s the name we used to go by, and sure, plenty of people still call us that today.
The story ended the best it could. Police found the baby safe and returned her to the hospital. It was my first major story to cover, and I never planned to bring it up when I arrived here 2½ years ago. Then, I read it in the book. Bob Page and Tammy Peterman included it in their book, “Proud But Never Satisfied.”
There’s transparency, and then there’s transparency. Our leaders, not the least of which “Bob” and “Tammy,” as they insist on being addressed, tell it like it is. They knew when the new authority started 25 years ago they had to be bluntly honest with themselves, let alone the public. The hospital had 30 days of operating cash, advisers thought it should close and patient satisfaction surveys were in the tank.
Success stems from putting patients first
Deciding to put patients and their families first and believing the finances would take care of themselves, they went on a mission to recreate an in-house cancer department and put a cardiology department back together. They started getting recognized, survey scores rose and the nursing program achieved what’s called “Magnet” status (some around here believe that was the turning point). Eventually, what seemed like a pipe dream started happening. Example: The University of Kansas Cancer Center gained National Cancer Institute (NCI) status in 2012. And Comprehensive status just last year. That’s more than elite.
Frankly, I hadn’t been paying that close of attention, and that might be typical for someone who doesn’t go the doctor – or a hospital – on a regular basis. I left Fox 4 in 2006 to take a dream job with my beloved Kansas City Royals. And I knew the hospital was a big deal when they became “The Official Healthcare Provider of the Royals.” Then the Chiefs, of course. And now KU Athletics.
As an aside, I was the Royals front office guy who got to come over from the team to officially announce to a gathering of employees (then known as The University of Kansas Hospital) that they had officially partnered with the team.
The silver anniversary begins
This story of health system success led us to a weekend celebration a few weeks ago. It was 25 years to the hour – at 12:01 a.m. on October 1, 1998 – the health system turned a quarter-century, a silver anniversary. Those responsible for the authority’s creation and success gathered for a panel discussion during a special episode of Morning Medical Update, and later an in-person panel on campus. Here was the lineup:
- University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod, MD, former vice chancellor of The University of Kansas Medical Center
- Scott Glasrud, chief financial officer at the time of the transition
- Former Kansas Gov. Bill Graves, who signed the legislation into law
- Bob Honse, former chair of The University of Kansas Hospital Authority
- Jon Jackson, former chief administrative officer of the health system and Hall of Fame recipient
- Former Kansas State Sen. Dave Kerr, who guided it through the Legislature
- U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas
- Frank Ross, lead counsel for the hospital on getting the legislation passed
- Chris Ruder, current senior vice president and chief operating officer of our Kansas City Division
- Steven Stites, MD, current chief medical officer
- Quint Studer, nationally known healthcare consultant
- Charlie Sunderland, philanthropist
- Irene Thompson, chief executive officer of The University of Kansas Hospital at the time of the transition
These are heavy hitters. Some appeared on stage in front of an audience, others by video, all hosted by Joe Reardon, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Since I started with first names in this blog, I’ll just add that Bob and Tammy wrapped up the panel with their reflections on the past 25 years, which ended with bold predictions for the future of the health system and 39th and Rainbow campus.
Per usual, Tammy ended with a heartwarming story about the extraordinary efforts some clinical staff made to get a mother to Kansas City to see her son before he died. They pitched in their own money and tried to keep it quiet, which is exactly what I’ve come to expect around here.
News is fun, and baseball’s a blast. But for a natural-born storyteller, I can’t ask for better than this. And there’s plenty more where that came from for the next quarter-century.