UK HealthCare looks to grow as major regional player

University of Kentucky HealthCare is becoming a major medical destination for Kentuckians and also for people living on our borders who need everything from kidney and liver transplants to heart and lung procedures — and everything in between.

And UK doesn’t want to stop there; it intends to become one of the leading integrated academic medical centers in the United States.

UK has made strides since 2004. At that time, the health-care system was seeing a steady decline in clinical activity and was losing relevance in the Kentucky marketplace.

“The College of Medicine was losing faculty, and the hospital was losing market share. It was slipping,” said Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for Health Affairs. “(Former UK president) Lee Todd understood that if the university was to become a major research institution, the academic medical center needed to be at the forefront of that.”

Karpf was hired in October 2003 to correct deficiencies. He thought there was poor communication between the medical faculty, hospital administrators and the dean. “My job was to get them all together and get them to the same place with a common vision,” he recalled.

A 2004 strategic plan was formed. It called for UK to grow in more complex subspecialty care, including organ transplantation, advanced neurosciences, advanced surgery and cardiovascular services.

Why tackle “the hard stuff,” as Karpf refers to it?

“Because if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t be available to half of Kentucky,” he explained.

Another part of the strategic plan called for more regional partnerships by taking UK HealthCare out into the region to augment specialty services provided by health-care systems and hospitals like Appalachian Regional Healthcare, St. Clair Regional Medical Center in Morehead, Ky., and Rockcastle Regional Hospital in Mount Vernon, Ky.

“Most people want to stay close to home for care. It’s appropriate to keep low-acuity patients in lower-cost facilities,” said Karpf. “Those providers are smaller than us, but are still major economic engines in their own counties.”

This plan helps smaller hospitals stay solvent while expanding their offerings through UK.

The third component of the strategic plan was more emphasis on efficiency, quality and patient safety.

The next strategic plan, 2010-2015, called for UK HealthCare to expand even farther out, to more of West Virginia, southern Ohio and eastern Tennessee.

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