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KU chancellor says cuts could mean elimination of medical programs in Wichita, Salina

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, April 17, 2013, at 3:28 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, April 18, 2013, at 2:08 p.m.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What's your reaction to the University of Kansas' plan to cut or eliminate medical programs in Wichita if the state Legislature reduces funding for the school?


Correction: William Cathcart-Rake is the director of undergraduate medical education at the KU School of Medicine-Salina. His title was incorrect in a previous version of this story.

University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little told the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday that proposed cuts to higher education could result in reducing and discontinuing programs in Wichita and Salina.

“Because of the size of the cuts, it’s really not possible to look at taking a little bit from here and a little bit from there,” Gray-Little told the regents.

“It would be a large number of faculty positions at the Lawrence campus, at the medical center, faculty positions but also programs in particular, programs we have expanded without additional state funding. … In Wichita and Salina, there would just be no basis on which we could afford to continue those programs with this level of cut.”

According to a fact sheet provided by the University of Kansas Office of Public Affairs, the cuts could:

• Reduce the number of medical students admitted each year by 36, with three-fourths of the reduction in Wichita. The move would move the Wichita campus back to accepting only third- and fourth-year students.

• Mean the School of Medicine-Salina would close.

• Reduce the number of admitted nursing students by 50.

• Reduce the number of medical resident positions equally between Kansas City and Wichita.

• Risk nonrenewal of the National Cancer Institute designation.

• Eliminate at least 38 faculty positions in Lawrence.

“One of the problems is that if you cut things across the board, over time you just make everything underfunded and mediocre,” Gray-Little said in an interview. “And we want to avoid doing that.”

Gray-Little said the only way to avoid that is to look at specific ways to cut programs without eroding the high quality of other programs.

“They would certainly be at risk,” she said of Salina and Wichita.

“Those are expansions that we made to accommodate the needs of the state for physicians who were interested in rural health and family medicine practices,” she said.

The Kansas House has proposed a 4 percent cut – about $29 million in operational spending – for all regents universities next year, in addition to $18 million in salary cuts, the Associated Press has reported.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said in an emailed statement: “The House is committed to higher education and believes that it is a priority for the state. However, when cash balances at Regents institutions over the last decade have grown by more than $247 million, the House believes there is room for savings. The reductions made by the House appropriations committee were based on the resource reduction package submitted by the Board of Regents.”

The Senate has proposed a 2 percent reduction, or about $15.2 million.

About 40 percent of the reduction in the state budget being discussed would come from higher education, and higher education is less than 15 percent of the budget, Gray-Little said.

“Higher education is being very heavily hit in comparison with its proportion of the budget,” she said.

She said the cuts would have a negative effect on KU’s ability to provide the educated workforce the state needs.

The Legislature will reconvene on May 8.

Gov. Sam Brownback recommends flat funding for higher education next year and plans to tour campuses across the state between Monday and May 6 to show support for flat funding.

Brownback said his plan would help stabilize higher-education funding if the state sales tax rate remains at 6.3 percent instead of dropping to 5.7 percent, which is scheduled to happen in July.

Wichita

The Wichita campus opened in 1971 to provide clinical training for third- and fourth-year medical students. The school also facilitates clinical trials and research.

In 2011, the program expanded to a full four-year campus in an effort to help with the physician shortage in the state. That expansion was completed without additional state funding, Gray-Little said.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita Dean Garold Minns declined to comment on the budget cuts news, according to a university spokeswoman.

The Wichita campus is also home to the Wichita Graduate Medical Education Center, which oversees residencies in the area.

Gray-Little said the residencies may have to be cut by 30 slots: 15 in Wichita and 15 in Kansas City.

If the residency programs are reduced, the impact will be felt statewide, said Ruth Weber, associate program director for the Wesley Family Practice Residency.

“The long-term implication for this is less doctors for Kansas, and I would hope the Legislature would really look at the bigger picture than this year’s budget,” Weber said.

“Our mission is to train doctors for Kansas. If there are not as many medical students and residents, there are fewer doctors, and that’s very sad. It’s the worst really for rural people who are already hurting for medical care and access to medicine. ... The real tragedy is just for the general public.”

Bruce Witt, director of government relations at Via Christi Health, said health officials do not support the potential cuts and see them as part of a statewide workforce issue.

“The cuts could impact access to primary care in future years,” Witt said.

Via Christi’s family medicine residents also treat a large number of Medicaid patients, Witt said, who could also be negatively affected.

Salina

The KU School of Medicine-Salina campus opened in July 2011 and is the smallest four-year medical education site in the country, with eight students in a class, according to its website.

It trains first- and second-year students, said William Cathcart-Rake, director of undergraduate medical education at the KU School of Medicine-Salina.

“I’m interested in building up this school, not tearing it down,” Cathcart-Rake said.

Cathcart-Rake said closing the campus would be a big blow to the Salina community, the students and the faculty.

“This community has embraced the new medical school campus with verbal best wishes and financial support,” Cathcart-Rake said. “Both the hospital, Salina Regional Health Center, and the Salina Regional Health Foundation have been extremely supportive in getting the campus started, and they’re very upset about the potential closing of the campus.”

Gray-Little said the Salina extension of the medical school was done without additional state funding.

“That kind of program is the type of program where we’ve added on something that we’re looking at in the face of these cuts,” she said. The school’s website says it had financial support with a $1 million gift from Salina Regional Health Center and $225,000 from the Salina Regional Health Foundation.

Douglas Girod, executive vice chancellor and interim executive dean of the school of medicine, said that if the campuses close, KU is committed to training students who have already been accepted.

The long-term challenge is that the fiscal year begins on July 1, and officials won’t have a clearer picture of the budget until late May, Girod said.

“We’re remaining optimistic that the governor will prevail in support of higher education, and we will be able to move forward. Should the need occur to (cut), we will have to regroup and figure out where to go from there.”

Gray-Little sent a message to the campus about the potential effects of the budget cuts on Wednesday afternoon.

Contributing: Brent Wistrom of The Eagle, Associated Press

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com.

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