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House debates study of potential sale of KU Hospital

TOPEKA — Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, this evening offered an amendment to study the viability of selling The University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City.

But he then withdrew it after House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, called it a “bad idea” that wasn’t discussed with House Republicans until the late hours of a nine-hour budget debate.

The idea has been floated in the past, but has never gained traction. House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said sending a sing ”would be an awful decision” for the House to make with National Cancer Institute designation pending. He said that would provide Kansans with cutting-edge cancer treatment and generate economic development.

Davis said the hospital puts $100 million into the KU School of Medicine.

Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, said KU School of Medicine could probably survive without the hospital, but he said it would damage it. He said it’s a profit center for the state.

“To jeapordize that would make no sense,” he said. “It would make about as much sense to sell the WSU baseball team.”

Wichita Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr said the hospital has nothing to do with the National Cancer Institute designation, and she disputed that the hospital brings money into the School of Medicine.

Landwehr said a study may find selling the hospital isn’t a good idea.

“It’s very possible that it is an assett that we should keep and perhaps even improve on,” she said. She said the KU School of Medicine in Wichita faced a funding crisis years ago and now gets funding from two private hospitals in the city and is doing well.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said Suellentrop didn’t share his proposed amendment with the Republican caucus.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “This is neither the time nor the place… to be deciding on a issue that does not need to be fixed.”

“Bad idea, bad time, so vote against it,” he said.

The House earlier this week approved a bill that would, among other things, bar residents at the University of Kansas Hospital from performing abortions on state property or on state time.

As that debate wound through the Statehouse throughout the session this year, it sparked questions about whether medical center would lose accreditation of its obstetrics and gynecological program. Lawmakers altered the bill so that its medical residents could do abortions off-site, on their own time, for a year.

Suellentrop said it’s not about KU or abortion.

“What this study may prove is that we should, in fact, sell this facility,” he said.