Kansas budget update

June 06, 2013

This is the newsletter I have been hoping to avoid. As most of you have undoubtedly heard, the Kansas Legislature finally passed a budget this past weekend, one that includes severe cuts to the University of Kansas Medical Center. For fiscal year 2014 (which begins July 1) we will need to cut more than $4.2 million, followed by $4 million in fiscal year 2015.

My office is now in the painful process of determining what to eliminate while maintaining our No. 1 mission, which is to train doctors, nurses and other health professionals for the state of Kansas. We will not impose across-the-board cuts. Rather, we will proceed thoughtfully and strategically. 

When this legislative session began, KU Medical Center had two specific requests for state policymakers: $2.8 million to support operations of the KU School of Medicine-Wichita, and $16 million (in money that was being returned from the IRS to KU in a refund of overspent FICA funds) to start work on a much-needed health education building. Legislators did include $1 million to begin planning for new educational facilities on the Kansas City campus. We are now thinking about whether this is sufficient to begin moving forward with those plans.

If there's any good news here, it's that a cut of more than $8.2 million over two years isn't as bad as the one-year hit of $11 million that we feared in April. But at the same time as it rejected our request for additional funding in Wichita, the Legislature also made stipulations limiting our options to cope with the significant funding cuts they imposed. A proviso prevents us from reducing enrollment at our Wichita or Salina campuses unless equal reductions are made in Kansas City. While we never wanted to diminish or cut these programs, the reality of our reduced budget must somehow be addressed through cutbacks.

We did make it clear to legislators that our recent expansions in Salina and Wichita need state support if they are to be sustainable in the long term. In a true display of pioneer spirit, we made these expansions without additional state funding to address a critical physician shortage in Kansas. The Wichita and Salina communities generously backed our efforts - with real dollars and heartfelt enthusiasm. Policymakers need to support the investment these communities have made and understand that Kansas cannot have a healthy economy - much less a healthy population - if the state keeps cutting the budget of the schools that train its health care providers.

Now I want to talk about something else. Over the last few weeks, as the budget drama was playing out in Topeka, a much more inspiring drama has been underway across the state. Many of you already know that Sandra Billinger, Ph.D., PT, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, and her son Michael Thomas have been making a 570-mile Walk Across Kansas to raise money for stroke research.

For Sandy, this feat is professional and personal. Her research focuses on the benefits of exercise after stroke, and May was both National Stroke Awareness Month and Exercise Is Medicine month. But she also had a higher calling: After going through a lengthy recovery from a severe car accident in 1993, Sandy was inspired to pursue a career in physical therapy. Her son Michael also plans to pursue a career in physical therapy and sports medicine.

If all goes well for the next couple of days, Sandy is scheduled to arrive back in Kansas City on Friday (you can track her progress on the final day of her walk here.) Meanwhile, this Facebook page has become a moving testament to her sometimes painful, snake-and-tick-filled trek - it's also a reminder that Kansas is a beautiful state, filled with strong and hopeful people.

I encourage all of you to check in on Sandy's progress and give her some support for these last few miles. And I would like to extend my personal gratitude to Sandy and Michael for demonstrating such extraordinary commitment to their work, their colleagues, their state and the higher purpose that calls each one of us to work at the University of Kansas Medical Center: making the world a healthier place for everyone.

Last modified: Jun 06, 2013