Back to life
How Oklahoma State University Medical Center will continue serving Tulsa residents and medical students.
Oklahoma State University Medical Center has a second chance at life. A collaborative effort of Tulsa’s medical and private communities and state and local governments has resurrected the facility — previously scheduled for closing by Ardent Health Services, the parent company of Hillcrest HealthCare System.
“Ardent announced last summer they were closing the hospital,” says Robert Poe, chairman of the newly formed Oklahoma State University Medical Center Trust, a nine-member city trust nominated by Mayor Kathy Taylor and confirmed through the Tulsa City Council. “It wasn’t profitable for them.”
Ownership of OSU Medical Center was officially transferred from Ardent to the OSU Medical Center Trust April 30, with St. John Health System agreeing to manage its operation.
“It was something we needed to do on behalf of the community,” says Lex Anderson, chief financial officer of St. John Health Center. “If it’s good for the community, it is ultimately good for St. John.”
Closing the facility would have strained the remaining medical facilities in Tulsa. With OSU Medical Center receiving approximately 40,000 emergency room visits annually, dispersing those patients would have clogged the city’s health care system, Anderson says.
“Trying to distribute 40,000 patients between two hospitals would not work out well from an operational standpoint,” Anderson says. “You would have seen gridlock, with ambulances lining the streets waiting to bring in the most sick.”
Four entities, including OSU, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, St. John Health System and the state of Oklahoma, have committed a total $105 million over the next five years. The funds from the Kaiser Foundation and St. John will provide health care for uninsured patients, Poe says. Some of the funds from OSU, $25 million in bonds resulting from the state tobacco tax, will be used to help pay for capital improvements. Other state funds will be used for operating expenses.
Additionally, the Kaiser Foundation also funded the legal fees that allowed the acquisition of the medical center to take place, as well as provided funds to close the sale, Poe says.
“Now we have, for the first time, funds provided by the state of Oklahoma to enable the hospital to provide health care for the uninsured in northeastern Oklahoma,” Poe says, explaining the new state legislation signed by Gov. Brad Henry March 18.
Poe says Oklahoma is declining in terms of the ratio of people per doctors, ranking 48th in the nation currently.
“A concentration of those with the least access to health care is the basic geographic area this hospital serves,” he says. “If this facility were to close, where do these people go to get health care?”
Beyond providing health care for the bulk of uninsured and Medicaid patients in the Tulsa area, the OSU Medical Center also operates as the teaching hospital for OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.
In 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked the medical school among the best nationally in providing rural and primary care.
“For the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, we must have a stable teaching environment for students to enter into a residency plan,” says Jim Hess, vice president and chief operating officer of OSU Center for Health Sciences. “The stability of a teaching hospital and a teaching program is inextricably linked to the success of the medical school.”
According to the American Medical Association, Oklahoma ranks last nationally in the number of primary care physicians available per 100,000 residents. The loss of the OSU Medical Center would have been “crippling” in the university’s progress to provide the state with additional medical staff, Hess says.
“What makes OSU Medical Center unique is that most residents who graduate from the residency program stay in Oklahoma,” Hess says. “Our medical students graduate, do their residencies in Oklahoma and then stay and practice in Oklahoma. That is a really important part of our mission and what we are most proud of.”
Pictured: Once in danger of closing, OSU Medical Center is now owned by the newly formed OSU Medical Center Trust, with operations managed by St. John Health System.
By the numbers
$45 million from OSU for operating capital and capital improvements
$7 million per year for five years, a joint commitment by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and St. John Health System
$5 million per year for the next five years from state funding
TOTAL: $105 million