KU Medical Center leaders regroup to finance new building

07/07/2013 12:31 PM

07/07/2013 12:33 PM

University of Kansas leaders are rethinking their approach toward working with state legislators in pursuit of funding for a new medical building to train doctors.

The University of Kansas wants to build a new facility at its medical school campus in Kansas City, Kan., to upgrade a building built in 1976. The school sought $30 million in state support over 10 years for the project, but was awarded $1 million.

Dr. Douglas Girod, executive vice chancellor for the KU Medical Center, says officials need to rethink their strategy after legislators balked at approving state funding for the project.

“We need to regroup and go back to the Legislature and see if they won’t help,” Girod said.

The university has tried to make the case that the building was needed to increase the number of doctors in Kansas, to upgrade the existing building and to keep pace with surrounding states that have added new facilities to recruit medical students.

With a new building, the medical school would shift away from classes centered on lectures and move toward small-group learning, which allows for more direct contact with medical faculty and use of technology. Surveys have indicated that students have chosen to attend other medical schools in part because of antiquated facilities in Kansas.

Kansas ranked 39th in the nation in 2010 among states with active physicians per 100,000 residents. One estimate suggests that 60 percent of the current doctors will leave the profession by 2030.

Girod said the $1 million lawmakers approved in the 2014 budget for the project will allow some site evaluation.

“That doesn’t do much to move it along,”

He said private funding sources have come to a halt until the state steps forward with more assistance.

But a key Senate budget committee member questions the need for the building based on data reported by the Kansas Board of Regents.

Sen. Tom Arpke, a Salina Republican, said reports for 2012 showed that some medical classrooms and laboratories were being underutilized by students.

“Some of the reports through the Board of Regents came up all zeroes. That was kind of a red flag,” he said.

Mary Jane Stankiewicz, a spokeswoman for the Board of Regents, said the part of the issue with the reports is how the medical center operates compared with other state universities dominated primarily by undergraduates. The school is working to correct the problem.

Arpke said he continues to speak with the medical center about issues and doesn’t think delaying the new building will determine the project’s outcome.

Legislators cut medical center funding by $8.3 million over the next two years. The school received $127 million in 2008 before the Great Recession, compared with $97.3 million for the current year.

“Every state around us is investing in higher education and their medical education infrastructure,” Girod said. “We are the only ones going in the other direction. That puts us at risk.”


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