Our Commonwealth needs a nationally leading academic medical center — an institution tackling the most complex health needs of our citizens through cutting-edge research and the highest quality patient care. From a community perspective, where is UK HealthCare in achieving vital goals?
- Over the past 10 years, the number of patients at UK has increased by almost 100 percent. That’s the result of a strong network of partnerships established with community providers and referring physicians across Eastern Kentucky, the state and region. In the last 10 years alone, patient volumes have nearly doubled, from 19,000 discharges annually to more than 36,000 projected for this year.
- The acuity rating of patients being treated at UK HealthCare has substantially increased. In laymen’s terms, this means that the patients are sicker, need more complicated treatment and more specialized surgery — a result of the strategy of keeping local patients closer to home for the bulk of their needs, but bringing them to UK HealthCare for the most critical of challenges, such as cancer, transplants and heart disease.
- Even with the tremendous growth and complexity of need, quality and patient satisfaction have dramatically increased. Last year, UK HealthCare was named recipient of the National Rising Star Award. This award goes to the major academic medical center that shows the highest level of improvement in overall quality and accountability.
- During times when the research budgets of federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health have tightened, UK HealthCare and the health colleges of UK have continued to sustain and grow their research profile.
- The economic impact of our clinical and research growth is helping drive Central Kentucky’s economy — growth that we need to continue if our community is to continue to thrive. For example, according to a recent study of Fiscal Year 2013, the annual direct and indirect economic impact of UK’s sponsored research across the campus was $581 million, with more than 8,000 jobs created and $21.3 million generated annually in local and state taxes.
- And over the past 10 years, while increasing from an operating budget of $300 million to $1.3 billion, UK HealthCare has grown from 2,500 jobs to 5,500. What kind of incentives would the state offer a company that would increase its budget by three-fold and more than double its employment base in 10 years?
The results are the reflection of thoughtful leadership and a focused strategy. Some 10 years ago, UK HealthCare developed a strategic plan that set out to improve its performance while at the same time meeting Kentucky’s most serious healthcare issues.
But three things need to happen for these critical strategic initiatives to be met and sustained:
- UK HealthCare must continue to recruit specialists and surgeons at a higher level than ever before.
- Alliances must continue to be formed with community hospitals throughout Kentucky and the region so that the ability to treat complex cases closer to home is dramatically increased.
- Facilities must be improved and modernized. And those modernization plans must be flexible enough to adjust to conditions as they change. A strategic plan, however visionary and farsighted, is only as good as its ability to change as conditions, inevitably, do.
The recent approval from Gov. Beshear and the legislature to help fund a multi-disciplinary research building that will specifically tackle Kentucky’s most significant health challenges is a critically necessary investment in our Commonwealth’s future health.
UK is one of only a handful of institutions in the country with federal designations of excellence for its work in cancer, aging and taking research discoveries from the lab into communities. But the university is virtually out of the space necessary to retain and recruit researchers whose work is key to unlocking the doors of discovery.
At the same time, space is also increasingly an issue for our clinical operations, which must continue to grow and expand. UK HealthCare is one of only two Level One trauma centers in the Commonwealth and it routinely treats the most seriously injured and critically ill patients.
The new UK HealthCare facility that opened in mid-2010 has been overwhelmed by the number of patients, resulting in unacceptable waiting times for patients to be treated and admitted. It’s something about which we all agree.
We know we must continue to push for these issues to be addressed and applaud the leadership team’s decision to open a new observation treatment area and implement other efficiency measures to better serve patients. Under construction also are several new hospital floors, which will help with the growing demand for clinical care provided by UK’s physicians and nurses.
Similarly, UK HealthCare leaders couldn’t have known 10 years ago that the community would need us to purchase Good Samaritan Hospital or that the state would ask us to partner in operating Eastern State.
Mira Ball, Robert Clay, Luther Deaton, Pam Miller and Nick Nicholson are community members of the Healthcare Committee of the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees.