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MU Voicers Concerns about Rehab Center Takeover

By: Dan Mihalopoulos
State Capital Bureau

March 07, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ The University of Missouri isn't ready to commit to the state administration's plan to take over the last state-operated health facility, the University system's top official told lawmakers Tuesday.

UM System President George Russell said he doesn't know whether to recommend that the Board of Curators assume control of the troubled Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon.

"There are some things that bother us right now," Russell told members of the Senate Education Committee. "We still have a lot of questions."

The hospital currently is run by the state Health Department. Department Director Coleen Kivlahan said the center must join a network of managed-care providers _ such as University Hospitals and Clinics _ to continue operating.

"Given this current market, this hospital is at great risk," Kivlahan said. "M.U. has done very well in today's marketplace. They are competing successfully."

A major obstacle to the merger is the great distance between the University of Missouri-Columbia and the rehab center. Mount Vernon is in southwest Missouri, about halfway between Springfield and Joplin.

The educational value and profitability of having the center might be diminished by its great distance from M.U., said Jim Snider, a lobbyist for the UM system.

"The University is not going to take over if we know from the start that we won't at least break even," he said. "Normally, hospitals have a tendency to affiliate with relatively contiguous areas."

Russell said he thinks the University System has done a good job with Columbia's Ellis Fischel Cancer Center since assuming control of responsibility from the state.

And the distance problem might be resolved by using available telecommunications technology to link the Mount Vernon center to M.U., the University president said.

The UM System also wants to know how the cost of switching the center's 200 employees to the University's retirement system would be handled. Snider said the price tag could reach $12 million.

"It is possible we could do something good for the state and not have it be too burdensome on the University," he said. "We have to make sure that, for those who transfer, we don't penalize existing employees."

The UM system has its own retirement system. All other state agencies, including the Department of Health, subscribe to the Missouri State Employees Retirement System (MOSERS).

"MOSERS will not want to pay to the University as much as we think they should, but I think that can be resolved," Snider said.

If the center doesn't join a managed-care network, Kivlahan said, the only remaining patients will be uninsured and most beds will be left empty.

Increasing numbers of employers are switching to managed care, she said. Their employees can only go to hospitals that are part of a managed-care network.

"We are at an acute crisis," Kivlahan said..

Russell agreed that something must be done about the center, whose specialties include head injuries and tuberculosis. But he said there are also other options.

"We may not be the best option," he said. "Other health care organizations might be a better option. We just don't have all the information digested."