Closure of OSU Med Center: Dire Consequences

SAVE OUR SCHOOL: OSU Medical Center students were among hundreds who signed petitions to save the school From left are Dr. Mindi Bull, Dr. Ryan Black, Sen. Tom Adelson and Dr. Amber Williams..

DANIEL C. CAMERON for GTR Newspapers

Open letter to Gov. Henry:

November 12, 2008
Governor Brad Henry
State Capital Building
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Rm 212
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

Dear Governor Henry:

At the heart of the move of Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine’s teaching programs from the OSU Medical Center (OSUMC) to Saint Francis Hospital lies a basic question: does it best serve Tulsa and surrounding communities?
On first look, it appears so. The acceptance of OSU medical residents by Saint Francis keeps alive an osteopathic medicine program vital to all of Oklahoma. But this new arrangement has a price: the near certainty that the OSU Medical Center, the prime medical facility for many of Tulsa’s most disenfranchised, will close forever.

Presently, the emergency center portion of OSUMC is to remain open through June 30, 2009. Beyond that, the fate of the hospital is unknown. Should the OSU facility close its doors for good, other Tulsa hospitals could, by mid-summer, be facing the full brunt of OSUMC’s yearly patient numbers – 10,000 inpatients, and more than 40,000 emergency department visits.

Tulsa’s other medical facilities, many of which run at or near patient capacity for much of the year, are in no position to absorb 50,000 additional OSUMC patients, many of whom have no health insurance or are covered through Medicaid. The influx of additional patients into other Tulsa hospitals could create a citywide “divert,” leading to a domino effect – the sick or injured
in eastern Oklahoma may find there is no room at Tulsa hospitals, which may result in those most in need being sent to Oklahoma City, thereby preventing those in western Oklahoma from receiving the care they need.

What is the solution? It begins with a simple realization that OSUMC is more than just a teaching hospital. It is a critical element of the healthcare infrastructure of Tulsa and, by virtue of the crisis that would be created by its closing, a crucial component of the state’s healthcare system as well. The move of OSU residents to south Tulsa, while saving the university’s medical program, takes them away from the people who need them most, those in the least served parts of the city.

The answer to all this is as straightforward as it is complex: keep OSUMC open. A pubic trust or similar entity can, as it is done in many other municipalities, be created to take ownership of the facility. Stable, continuous funding from the state or other sources would ensure long-term stability for OSU’s medical school and provide medical residents a facility of their own. There is no denial that such a proposal is expensive. But so is care for thousands of patients with little or no health insurance, costs absorbed by Tulsa’s other hospitals at higher levels each year.
The closing of OSUMC and the full transfer of the medical school’s residency program may have further consequence – the loss of millions of dollars in federal aid for medical teaching programs and support of uncompensated care. By taking medical residents out of OSUMC, the state will lose these federal benefits and be faced with markedly higher funding requirements for physician training and state funding for medical care. At the same time, if OSUMC acquires government ownership, annual operating costs would be substantially reduced, thanks to financial benefits only given to government hospitals.

A state-supported medical facility has precedent. Several years ago, the state legislature approved financial support through appropriations and other means for University Hospital in Oklahoma City, which now serves that city’s poor. In Tulsa, St. John Medical Center, Hillcrest Medical Center, Saint Francis Hospital and OSUMC have traditionally served the poor, at an annual cumulative cost of tens of millions of dollars, with no similar funding from the state. Programs should be developed to adequately cover medical education and uncompensated care at OSUMC. Payments for uncompensated care should “follow the patient,” so that if OSUMC patients go to other Tulsa hospitals, those facilities and their physicians can be reimbursed.

We are at a tipping point for Tulsa’s healthcare system. The loss of OSUMC as a medical facility will place undue burden on the remainder of the city’s hospitals, and could create a cascade of failure, where no one, no matter whether they are insured or uninsured, will receive adequate care due to overcrowding and the slow financial strangulation of Tulsa’s medical facilities.
Does keeping OSUMC open best serve Tulsa and surrounding communities? There is no answer but “yes.”


Robert J. Sullivan Jr.
Chairman of the Board

Sister M. Therese Gottschalk
President and Chief Executive Officer
Robert J. LaFortune
Vice Chairman of the Board

David Pynn
Chief Operating Officer

Updated 11-25-2008

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