Jackson County Legislature Approves $1.6 Million in Capital Improvements for Truman Medical Centers

Three dozen agencies receive a total of $3.3 million

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Thanks to a financial maneuver earlier this year, Jackson County has approved $1.6 million for capital improvements at Truman Medical Centers.

The funding is included in the roughly $300.3 million county budget for next year, which the Jackson County Legislature approved Monday.

One high priority for Truman is upgrades to the physical plant at its Lakewood medical center in eastern Kansas City, Mo., according to chief executive John Bluford.

The facility is more than three decades old, he said in testimony last week to the Legislature’s budget committee, and Truman has come “very close” to having to kick in emergency generators at the center.

“The power plant just has to happen,” Bluford testified. “We just can’t afford the liability of that breaking down.”

Truman also needs to upgrade the neonatal intensive care unit at Lakewood and keep up with equipment advances throughout the system, he said.

“Technology is constantly improving,” Bluford said. “That’s the name of the game, if you want a first-rate hospital.”

As the owner of the building and the grounds at Lakewood and at the Hospital Hill medical center near downtown Kansas City, Mo., Jackson County will have a say in how Truman spends the capital improvement money, said Shelley Kneuvean, the county’s chief operating officer.

Jackson County freed up the money by refinancing about $43 million in bonds in July, Kneuvean said.

The county expects to save a total of about $5.4 million through the refinancing during the next three years, but Kneuvean said county officials have yet to earmark the future funds.

Though most of the refinanced bonds had funded projects at Truman, Jackson County officials did not initially direct next year’s savings toward Truman. But hospital executives argued the proceeds should go to Truman under the funding agreement between the two parties.

Plus, Bluford testified, Truman was in “dire need of those dollars” to cover operating costs and the expense of serving so many patients who can’t afford to pay their bills.

Truman’s total allocation from the county for next year is approximately $11 million, including about $3.5 million for operating costs.

Nonprofit service providers also closely watch the budget because of the Legislature’s set-aside for “outside agencies,” with most of the funding coming from the county’s health fund.

The allocation for 2013 is about $3 million, which the Legislature split between approximately three dozen agencies. Forty-five applicants submitted requests totaling about $4.5 million for next year, said County Auditor Gary Panethiere.

Money available for outside agencies next year is down slightly from the $3.3 million allocated this year.

“We wish that wasn’t the case,” said County Executive Mike Sanders, “but that’s the nature of the economy we are in.”

The largest outside agency line item for next year is again Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics. Its allocation of $430,000, which the hospital uses to cover the costs of care for the indigent and the uninsured, is the same as it received this year.

Legislators also level funded Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, a safety-net clinic, for next year at $337,488.

Operation Breakthrough, which provides a variety of services to low-income children, received a slight decrease for its food assistance program in a total allocation of approximately $60,000.

And the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City did not receive any funding for its Project Learn, which provides academic assistance to low-income students. It sought $68,700 to help cover the costs of salaries and supplies.

A Boys & Girls Clubs spokeswoman said she would look into the impact of the county’s decision, but she had not returned the phone call as of Wednesday.

At Children’s Mercy, spokeswoman Melissa Novak said in an e-mail that it’s a “huge challenge” to continue treating low-income patients when funding stays flat as costs for staff and supplies continue to increase.

“We are continually looking at ways to introduce efficiencies and cost savings into the system,” she said, “but it is a delicate balancing act.”

Operation Breakthrough is fortunate to receive food drive donations, said interim chief executive Susan Stanton, so the organization should be able to weather the small decrease in county funding for its food assistance program.

County funding also helps fund speech therapy and psychiatric services for the children at Operation Breakthrough, Stanton said.

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