Med Center, WKONA debate WKU proposal

Emma Collins

The bidding process for a proposal for a sports medicine complex at WKU was “veiled in secrecy” and favored a monopolization of health insurance for WKU employees, according to doctors with the Graves Gilbert Clinic subsidiary.

In the past three months, Western Kentucky Orthopaedic and Neurosurgical Associates, which Graves Gilbert Clinic owns, filed two letters of protest against the deal that would allow the construction of a $22 million athletic facility. While President Gary Ransdell and Athletic Director Todd Stewart initially offered WKONA the contract, Dr. Craig Beard, a doctor with WKONA, said the initial offer was for a facility priced at around $20 million. When WKONA refused the deal citing concerns about the cost, WKU turned to the Medical Center and offered the organization a similar deal.

Following the Board of Regents approval of the deal between WKU and the Medical Center, Beard and other doctors with the Graves Gilbert Clinic released claims stating the proposal specifically favored MedCenter Health. The deal could potentially create a monopoly that could increase health insurance rates for the university’s employees, according to WKONA. The deal would have also given the Medical Center exclusive rights to be the health services provider for athletes, a contract held by WKONA until its termination in August.


However, WKU administration and Medical Center officials dispute WKONA’s claims, stating WKONA is protesting out of fear of losing business to other healthcare providers. WKU administration and Medical Center officials also said WKONA exaggerated the university’s ability to control the medical providers employees use.

WKU promised the Medical Center exclusive rights to on-campus health services currently managed by Graves Gilbert Clinic in the original letter of intent for the construction of the sports medicine facility.

According to the Request for Proposal, otherwise known as an RFP, released by WKU after WKONA’s first protest, the medical service provider awarded the bid will receive those exclusive clinic rights.

“The university is willing to consider a long-term exclusive contract with the medical services provider that could include various health related services in exchange for shared use of the facility constructed by the building,” according to the RFP. 

Beard said the term “exclusive” concerns WKONA because it could lead to an exclusive contract with the Medical Center if if WKU awards the Medical Center the bid. He said an exclusive deal could prevent WKU employees from using other providers.

“When they put that kind of wording in there, our concern is one day the faculty is [sic] going to wake up and they’re going to, unfortunately, be exposed to an exclusive contract where they have to go,” Beard said.

Beard said the medical group is also concerned about health insurance rates if the Medical Center is allowed to become the health services provider. He said the university has said it will lower the price of the co-pay for individuals who use the Medical Center. Beard said this might entice WKU employees to choose to use the Medical Center instead of other providers.

“We’re concerned from being cut out from access to the faculty,” Beard said.

However, the lower co-pays are simply incentives, said Doris Thompson, vice president of marketing and development for the Medical Center. She said the WKU and the Medical Center have not discussed limiting the health care providers for the university’s employees, but the Medical Center is only adding another discount to the many discounts already offered to WKU employees.

“It appears that the WKONA physicians fear that our proposal to offer an option that would reduce expense for WKU employees will also reduce the income of WKONA physicians who have had little or no competition for many years,” Thompson said in an email.

In a letter to the editor published online by the Herald on Oct. 13, Tony Glisson, WKU’s director of human resources, said WKU does not have the ability to determine which providers the university’s insurance provider, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, will cover. Glisson said only Anthem could decide which providers it will cover.

In addition to making the Medical Center the sole on-campus health services provider, Beard also said the RFP would move students in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program out of their current building in the Health Services Complex on the Medical Center’s campus to the new facility. The building will be used for students in the University of Kentucky’s UK College of Medicine – Bowling Green. Beard said he does not like the idea of housing UK students in a WKU building.

Beard also criticized the bidding process for health care. He said WKU sold the health care instead of accepting bids for the job. If the university had accepted bids, Beard said he believed WKONA would have qualified for the job.

In the first letter of protest filed by WKONA, the group said the Medical Center and WKU made an agreement behind closed doors. Beard said the entire deal was “veiled in secrecy.”

In an email, Aaron Wichman, an associate professor, also expressed concerns with the deal between the Medical Center and WKU. Wichman said he does not believe WKU should trade health care for the construction of a new building.  He said WKU is auctioning off the right to provide health care on campus in an attempt to cover the cost of the building.

“I would humbly request that if we are going to auction off the right to sell us our health care, this auction must benefit us who use our health care,” Wichman said. “Any other aspects of this auction must be separated from this benefit.”

Wichman suggested allowing a group of people to evaluate bids for health care. He said the goal of the group should be to find the best plan possible.

“The criterion of ‘who will build the best building’ is unlikely to be helpful in this determination,” Wichman said.

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].