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How a failing hospital was turned around to become a nationally recognized leader

by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | August 20, 2021
Bob Page and Tammy Peterman
From the August 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Bob Page, president and CEO of the University of Kansas Health System and Tammy Peterman, president of the Kansas City Division of the University of Kansas Health System wrote the book, Proud but Never Satisfied: Ten Transformative Actions for Healthcare Systems. The book was released earlier this year and offers a compelling story of how a failing hospital was turned around to become a nationally recognized leader. HealthCare Business News spoke with Bob and Tammy to learn more about the individuals and about the hospital that they’ve helped reinvigorate.

HCB News: Can you explain what led you to write the book?
Bob Page: Sure. From 1906 to 1998, the hospital was basically owned and governed by the University of Kansas. It had some really good years, some OK years and some really bad years. By the mid-90’s we had the worst patient satisfaction in the country. Our turnover as an organization was 33% per year. When we surveyed our employees for their opinions, the three lowest rated questions from our 2,200 staff were: would you recommend the hospital as a place to work? Would you recommend the hospital as a place to receive care? Are you proud to work at the University of Kansas Hospital? The good news was the market for healthcare was growing. The bad news was it was growing everywhere but here. We were losing about 5% volume per year and bottomed out at about 13,000 discharges in 1998. That told us that our 500 bed hospital had 140 patients in beds. It also meant we had more medical students than patients. On top of all that, we had no money. For the first 92 years of our existence, every dollar the hospital made went back to the university. Some of that went back to the state of Kansas, but none of it was kept.

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We brought in a consulting firm in. They told us two important things. First, if you don’t fix the mess you’re in, you’re going to lose $20 million a year by the year 2000 — this was in 1997. Second, we’re going to give you six recommendations to consider — one is to sell, one is to close. We were actually having those conversations on this campus during those years and we decided to take a third option which was to create a public authority. So on October 1, 1998, we became a public authority. We were all state employees at the time, so we had to sign a waiver to join the public authority. Our seed money to get started was $23 million, which was approximately 30 days of operating cash. We had a building that was antiquated, we got a board of directors for the first time, and we were cut off from state subsidies — we haven’t received a dime from the state since 1998.

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