Advocating against budget cuts

April 25, 2013

Since last week's news about the consequences of budget cuts proposed by the Kansas House of Representatives, my office, the Chancellor's office, and many of our supporters have been in overdrive to help our communities understand the context of this news and what is truly at stake for KU Medical Center.

To recap: On April 17, at the request of the Board of Regents, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and the heads of other Regents institutions outlined the true costs of the House's proposed budget. KU Medical Center would experience a 10 percent budget cut on top of the 13 percent reductions we've seen since 2008. As a result, KU Medical Center would be forced to reverse the expansions of our School of Medicine, to admit 50 fewer nursing students and to reduce the number of medical residents. Renewal of our NCI designation would also be threatened. The university community and stakeholders throughout the state are shocked and angry that such successful initiatives are at risk. But, after years of declining state funding, we can no longer do more with less. We would finally be forced to do less with less.

Legislators reconvene on May 8, and we're working to make sure they recognize the state's return on investment in higher education.

To see the value of that investment at work, one only needs to spend time with our students. On Friday, I traveled to the Salina campus for the spring dinner, where I got a good grilling. These 16 first- and second-year students made it clear that they did not want to move to Kansas City to finish medical school. They are deeply committed to practicing rural medicine - which is exactly what we'd hoped for when we created the Salina campus. With strong support from Salina Regional Health Center and the community, we reorganized our budget and did what was best for Kansas. As I wrote in a letter to the editor of the Salina Journal this week, the Kansas physician shortage will become more severe as the population and its doctors age, which is why the state needs this medical school campus in Salina. And I applaud the Salina students for writing their own letter to the editor that's been published in the Leavenworth Times and the Pittsburg Morning Sun.

On Tuesday of this week, I was scheduled to visit our 4-Wichita board, a group of civic leaders, business executives, medical professionals and other strong supporters who made it possible for the School of Medicine-Wichita to expand from a two-year program to a four-year program in 2011. Weather prevented me from making the trip in person, so I participated by conference call, and the passion of our Wichita friends came through loud and clear. I'm grateful for their support in these final stretches of the budget conversation.

Dean Garold Minns spoke eloquently about the campus' role in producing doctors for the state, and Associate Dean for Research Michele Mariscalco reinforced the school's central role in growing the Kansas research economy. For example, on April 18, the KU School of Medicine-Wichita hosted the 21st Annual Research Forum, "Disruptive Innovation at the Intersection of Education, Patient Care, and Research."

Among the 196 attendees were students from Wichita Collegiate High School and Wichita State University, physicians from Wesley Medical Center and Via Christi Health, and representatives from the Sedgwick County Health Department in addition to KU School of Medicine-Wichita faculty, residents and medical students. Presentations and breakout sessions focused on the innovation in education and research underway in Wichita and how it improves patient care and health in the region (recordings of the sessions and a list of the poster winners are available on the KU School of Medicine-Wichita Office of Research website). Congratulations and thanks to Dr. Mariscalco and her entire team for hosting such an important event.

Today we are back in Kansas City. We're spending the morning at the spring meeting of the Advancement Board, more than 80 community leaders dedicated to furthering our mission through advocacy, philanthropy and in myriad other ways. As soon as that wraps up, we welcome Gov. Sam Brownback, who is stopping at KU Medical Center on his tour of Kansas universities and colleges as he seeks to ensure passage of his budget, which holds higher education harmless.

It's been gratifying to see an outpouring of similar sentiments from folks we don't know. On Sunday, both the Wichita Eagle and the Lawrence Journal-World urged policymakers to protect the state's investments in higher education.

I'm so grateful to everyone on our campuses and in all corners of the state who continue to work with us on this crucial effort...thank you.

Last modified: Apr 25, 2013