Hillcrest HealthCare System continues fight for state funding

Sunday, February 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA - Oklahoma legislators are considering a proposal that would help fund 16 teaching hospitals throughout the state, including Hillcrest HealthCare System.

Hillcrest picked up the fight in November, asking the state to fund its hospitals and make them eligible for millions in federal Medicaid matching funds. But now the request has expanded to include 16 hospitals that teach third- and fourth-year medical students and medical residents who have a degree but have to work under supervision.

Legislators are scheduled to continue the discussion Wednesday.

Hillcrest has asked for state money to support medical students working at hospitals and to fund care for the indigent. The health care system said the two issues are linked because students often offer inexpensive care to poor patients.

``We're being acknowledged as the first one to step out and say this is an issue and we want to help the state deal with it,'' said Donald A. Lorack Jr., president and CEO of Hillcrest.

Officials said the hospitals will be eligible for $24 million in federal Medicaid funding if the state contributes $10 million.

``What's going on is really not a bailout,'' said Brent G. Nielsen, Hillcrest senior vice president. ``A true bailout is when a company is going to go out of business no matter what, and the state or the feds will come along and float them a loan so they can stay in business. That is absolutely not what's happening here. We will not go out of business if we get no money from the state.''

But if Hillcrest doesn't receive the funds, it will cancel Medicaid contracts, cut back or end graduate education and close Tulsa Regional Medical Center. That could be devastating to the medical programs at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

Almost 200 OSU students and residents work at Tulsa Regional. If the hospital closed, the students would go out of state for their residencies, said Dr. Tom Allen, dean of the OSU medical school.

``It's absolutely critical that we continue to have support for our hospital,'' Allen said.

Ken Lackey, president of the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine-Tulsa, said 62 students work in Hillcrest's obstetrics and family medicine departments. He supports state funding for the hospitals.

``From the standpoint of financial efficiency, it's a very good buy for the state of Oklahoma,'' Lackey said.

State funding also would help hospitals compensate for the high number of Medicaid patients and the low reimbursement for their treatment. Statistics show Medicaid has increased by 39 percent with 110,000 more people added to SoonerCare in the past two years.