Our obligation to a healthier Kentucky

Published 1:07 am Saturday, May 13, 2023


University of Kentucky

In 1958, the University of Kentucky Board was wrestling with an audacious and ambitious topic – how to develop a medical center that would serve our state.

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There was fierce opposition in some quarters. There was, of course, the not inconsiderable task of funding it. And there was the question of what a medical center would really be.

In a report prepared for the Board, the purposes of the medical center were outlined in plain, straightforward and direct language …. “To train more doctors and health personnel to serve Kentucky … to facilitate research … to provide medical care to the indigent … to provide a base for a Medical Center which will serve the entire state.”

The center, the report continued, “will be oriented toward the special and unique problems of Kentucky” and will house “an integrated array of facilities” that will have “affiliations with hospitals” as part of a mission to “achieve the highest quality of program …”

That was 1958. It could have been written in 2023 – not as a lament about what hasn’t been accomplished and what remains to be done, but as a testament to an enduring and compelling vision so powerful that it continues to fuel our ambitions and drive our dreams even today.

Chair Brockman outlined several points of progress our health care system has made in the last 15 years – from rankings and measures of quality to tangible results of treating and healing more patients in every corner of our Commonwealth.

Led by this board and sparked by the creativity and commitment of so many talented people throughout this enterprise, you have built a nationally recognized academic health system. And when we needed them, our elected officials and policymakers stood with us.

We are poised and positioned as never before to do even more for the state we are called to advance through care and compassion.

And that, in essence, is what we are here to learn more about, and discuss more deeply, this afternoon – how we convert the promise of continued progress into the treatment and, increasingly, the prevention of more disease and death in our state.

The vision and mission are the same as in 1958 – to be a beacon of hope and center of healing throughout Kentucky. More than 15 years ago, that vision was crystallized around the idea of ensuring that no Kentuckian would have to venture far from home to receive the best in advanced subspecialty care.

We refreshed and re-examined our planning over the years, but our focus has remained fixed.

We are compelled by the needs of our state to continue to build and sustain our presence as  Kentucky’s premier center for advanced care.

However, we are at an inflection point.

The landscape for health care is undergoing dramatic change.

The financial pressures for hospitals, large and small, continue to increase.

We face challenges in recruiting and retaining the best workforce – the immensely talented doctors, nurses, technicians and other support staff who make healing possible.

More people – both within the UK community and those who simply cannot access the care we provide for many reasons – have primary and ambulatory treatment needs that should be filled closer to home.

We are now a sprawling academic health system within a growing and thriving university enterprise – something those on whose shoulders we stand could never have envisioned more than six decades ago.

We have built, not for the names on buildings or for acclaim, but for our state – its health and its future. And we must continue to grow to meet the growing needs of our state.

Doing so, though, will require a clear-eyed, pragmatic approach to long-range budgeting and planning.

There is a saying: no margin; no mission. It is an oft used refrain because it is true. To make real our dreams for a healthier state, we must make real a sustainable budget that supports our mission.

Our vision and how we will make it a reality is the result of purposeful and collaborative planning, thoughtful strategy and a continued commitment to dreaming about what is possible for the health of a people and a state we are privileged to serve.

We face big challenges in expanding our reach as an academic health system that plays such an integral role in our institution’s mission to advance Kentucky.

We also have incredible opportunities to do and be more for Kentucky.

Eli Capilouto is the 12th president of the University of Kentucky.