Dr. Michael Karpf, vice president for Health Affairs at University of Kentucky HealthCare, speaks before the Rotary Club of Paducah on Thursday. The university is expanding its patient referral range into western Kentucky, among other locations, and hopes to partner with local hospitals in future procedures, Karpf said.
Exhibiting exponential growth in clinical care options and patient reach in the past decade, University of Kentucky HealthCare has its eyes set on becoming a leading top 25 academic medical center in the nation.
And with that goal in mind, the university is reaching beyond its traditional central and eastern Kentucky borders to expand the center’s patient referral area into regions such as western Kentucky.
Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for Health Affairs at UK, took that message on the road Thursday, speaking before the Rotary Club of Paducah about the challenges of broadening the university’s scope, and building partnerships with local community hospitals.
“When you take a look at the number of cases per million in order to be a major referral center, you really have to have a draw of more than 5 million people to get adequate numbers for you to be able to do a sufficient quantity and you must do it with a sufficient quality to be able to become a center of excellence,” Karpf told Rotarians.
Putting the 5 million number into perspective, Karpf said the center’s primary service region draws from a population of only 2 million people, contrasting other major academic centers like Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., or the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, all drawing from a population base of about 7 million.
Keeping that amount in mind, UK has embarked on a mission to strengthen relationships beyond the immediate Lexington area, with partnerships at community hospitals and health centers in southern Ohio, West Virginia, eastern Tennessee and western Kentucky.
The university would serve as a regional referral center where patients at smaller hospitals in those areas can send patients for major operations such as heart, lung, kidney, liver or cancer treatment.
According to UK statistics, the medical center has grown to about 36,000 discharges in the 2013 fiscal year, a growth of about 88 percent from nearly a decade earlier, but more can be done to make the center a medical destination, Karpf said.
Nearly 6,000 total patients from western Kentucky — 4,000 patients from the Pennyrile and 2,000 from the Purchase areas — leave the state to seek further treatment at Vanderbilt. Karpf acknowledged the geographic proximity of the Nashville center to these regions as a major factor, but said an ongoing partnership with local hospitals and physicians could swing referrals.
“We try to augment what the local hospitals do and not compete with the hospitals,” Karpf said. “There are two very fine local hospitals here, but they’re never going to get into solid organ transplantation or bone marrow transplantation and may not get into some more esoteric neuro-science kinds of things, and so we try to develop relationships where people can get evaluated locally for those problems, come to us for the procedure and come back.”
Dr. Brad Housman, chief medical officer at Western Baptist Hospital in Paducah, said the hospital has worked with the university in recruiting new doctors, especially in the areas of greatest local need like primary care and internal medicine physicians.
As the hospital undergoes a name change along with other hospitals in the Kentucky Baptist Health network, Housman said statewide partnerships in the health industry help ensure quality care for local patients.
“It’s exciting to think of the partnerships we can have within our system and also with UK throughout the state,” Housman said. “It’s a win-win on both of those fronts.”
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.