WKONA protests Medical Center deal

Jacob Dick

A Bowling Green medical provider filed a legal protest Friday against the deal between WKU and The Medical Center.

The protest was filed to the state Finance and Administration Cabinet on behalf of Western Kentucky Orthopedic and Neurological Associates, former health services provider for WKU Athletics. It claims procurement laws and regulations to promote fairness and transparency weren’t followed in the execution of the deal.

In August, the Board of Regents approved the deal that would provide a $22 million athletics and training facility and make The Medical Center a health services provider.

According to the supplement to the bid originally filed Friday, Sept. 2, documents received by Frost Brown Todd LLC on behalf of WKONA show the 99-year lease of land and exclusive health services rights promised to The Medical Center were arranged behind closed doors.

In an email response, President Gary Ransdell explained what he understood of WKONA’s complaints so far and a touch of bewilderment at their reasoning.

“As I understand it at first glance, WKONA is protesting the lack of a bid process,” Ransdell said in an email. “This is curious for two reasons. One, they exclusively handled our Athletic orthopedic work for years without bidding on it. More relevantly, however, this was not a project subject to bidding.”

WKONA, owned by current campus health services provider Graves Gilbert Clinic, is claiming in the protest that while it was approached with the offer to fund the new facility, it and other health service providers were never offered the lease or exclusive rights as campus health services and were not allowed to compete for the bid.

It also claim WKU told the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee it didn’t follow the normal statutes regarding lease purchases, public-private partnerships or capital construction projects.

The protest also contains excerpts of private messages from Ransdell and Board of Regents members as well as CEO of The Medical Center Connie Smith.

The protest claims Ransdell told the board in a private letter Tuesday, Aug. 2, he had made contact with The Medical Center with intent to make a deal with them.

“[T]o be clear, I specifically asked The Medical Center to make this investment on our campus,” the protest states.

It goes on to claim Ransdell wrote an email Tuesday, Aug. 9 to the Board of Regents saying he had met with Smith to negotiate the terms of the deal. Ransdell later forwarded the email to Smith.

Ransdell said an offer for a partnership project was made to WKONA in January, then to a consortium of WKONA, Graves Gilbert and Greenview, at which point all three declined. When a medical school partnership with the University of Kentucky and The Medical Center was finalized, Ransdell said WKU submitted a proposal to The Medical Center which it agreed to.

“When the original proposal to WKONA for a surgical center and indoor facility fell through (we projected $20 million), then talked about a simple $15 million indoor faculty,” Ransdell said in an email. “They and Graves Gilbert both said they could not do that either. The Medical Center was the only remaining option.”

Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Ann Mead said she believes WKU administration has acted in compliance with all procurement requirements in an email Monday afternoon.

WKONA and its legal counsel requested in the protest the Finance and Administration Cabinet should block WKU from awarding a contract to The Medical Center without following proper procedures to request bids from competing services.

In the protest, WKONA repeats several times the health service provider doesn’t take issue with WKU receiving an athletic facility, but the way the deal was arranged sets a precedent for private organizations to make monopolizing deals with government entities, eliminating competition and transparency.

Reporter Jacob Dick can be reached at (270) 745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @jdickjournalism.