Update on budget concerns

April 18, 2013

I hope you all read Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little's message to the campus yesterday. In it, she outlined some of the severe losses the University of Kansas Medical Center would suffer if the budget currently under consideration by the Kansas House becomes law. In her message, the Chancellor was responding to a request from the Board of Regents that we give them specific information about the effect of those proposed cuts.

Yesterday afternoon, she told the Regents that such cuts would:

  • Force us to return to our pre-2011 class size of 175 students
  • Force us to eliminate the new first- and second-year programs in Wichita
  • Force us to close the Salina campus
  • Force us to admit 50 fewer nursing students
  • Force us to reduce the number of medical resident positions by 30 (half of those in Kansas City and half in Wichita).

Legislators will reconvene on May 8 to determine the final budget. Yesterday the Chancellor, along with heads of the other Regents institutions, made a strong case for supporting Gov. Sam Brownback's budget, which does not cut funding for higher education. Gov. Brownback plans to visit KU Medical Center next week as part of a tour to encourage legislators to support higher education.

Meanwhile, our university community and the people of Kansas need to understand why the House budget would force us to make such agonizing choices.

The cuts proposed by the House add up to more than $11 million at KU Medical Center. In addition to a proposed 4 percent across-the-board cut, the House is proposing a salary cap and a sweep of funds for vacant positions, adding up to more than 10 percent of our budget.

The programs named above are ones we have expanded in recent years. Recognizing that Kansas faces a severe physician shortage that is expected to become worse as the population and its doctors age, the KU School of Medicine made efforts to address the problem. We increased the School of Medicine class size, expanded the School of Medicine-Wichita to a four-year program and opened an innovative campus in Salina that earned national recognition for creating a rural physician education model for the entire country. Notably, we did this without any additional support from the state.

In fact, we did it despite declining state support. This fiscal year, state general funds for the medical center total $105.9 million - down from $121.7 million in 2008 (a 13 percent reduction). Each year, we have trimmed, tightened and reallocated funds to support strategic mission growth. We joined Lawrence in a university-wide efficiency effort. This year we undertook a major financial reorganization to ensure that we are even better stewards of the state's money. In the meantime, we earned National Cancer Institute designation, National Alzheimer's Center designation and a Clinical and Translational Science Award, bringing into the state tens of millions of dollars in federal research funding that created extra jobs for Kansans and elevated our national stature.

However, we cannot continue to meet the state's growing health care needs with less and less state support. The simple fact is, a budget reduction of $11 million would force us to retract our recent expansions.

Such cuts would also put our National Cancer Institute designation at risk. Earning it the first time required a profound investment in our research programs, which must be maintained if we hope to have the designation renewed in four years (and all indications are that the NCI will set even higher standards and stricter criteria for future designations). Beyond the specific programs we've named, cuts of the magnitude we face in the House would affect our entire medical center.

Our recent successes were possible because we leveraged state support for our mission of educating future health care providers and leaders. The philanthropic community and our health care partners around the state share enormous enthusiasm for our work and understand its high return on investment.

We have been working hard with the Board of Regents and our supporters throughout the state to impress on lawmakers the fact that Kansas cannot have a healthy economy - much less a healthy population - if it keeps cutting the budget of the schools that train its health care providers. We are seeing positive signs that more legislators understand how important their upcoming decisions will be for the future health of Kansas. We'll be working even harder in the next three weeks.

Last modified: Apr 18, 2013