Debate and questions surface after Medical Center decision

Jacob Dick

After two hours of discussion, the WKU Board of Regents gave approval for President Gary Ransdell to enter into a new deal with The Medical Center at Bowling Green Friday morning, breaking a current agreement with Graves-Gilbert Clinic.

The board voted 6-4 on the decision to allow a new $22 million sports medicine and training facility that will house indoor baseball and football facilities, as well as housing WKU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, currently on the third floor of The Medical Center-WKU Health Sciences Complex.

A new building will be built between the football stadium and the baseball field and will open six to eight months into the next president’s tenure, according to Ransdell, but the specifics of the deal and its future effects are still raising questions.

The deal — particularly replacing Graves-Gilbert with The Medical Center at the WKU Health Services clinic — is stirring controversy on campus.

The Deal

At Friday’s regents meeting, held in the Potter College Room of Van Meter Hall directly after Ransdell’s last convocation, the board viewed a short presentation outlining a proposed partnership with The Medical Center.

Ransdell explained the university’s challenge to find more space for a maximum of 160 students attending the new School of Medicine affiliated with the University of Kentucky at The Medical Center Campus. One of the slides in the presentation estimated a $15.3 million price tag to add two floors onto the Health Sciences Complex.

Instead of enlarging the facility, Ransdell said he had worked out a deal with the board of The Medical Center and UK to have the College of Medicine lease space now occupied by the WKU Doctor of Physical Therapy program on the third floor.

“I have assurances from President Capilouto that they value this sublease strategy,” Ransdell said.

As a part of the deal, The Medical Center would foot the entire bill on construction of the two-story, 57,000 square foot building on WKU’s main campus, with the only expense to WKU being the space occupied by the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. Those costs will be covered by the money WKU gets from UK leasing the current physical therapy space at the Health Sciences Complex.

Ransdell briefly flipped through slides outlining the new facility, mentioning square footage and assuring the physical therapy program would be meeting with architects soon to create their space in the new building.

The land the new building would be built on will be leased to The Medical Center for 99 years at $1 a year with the option of the building being given to WKU if the health provider wants out. Ransdell compared the deal to similar leases with the Ogden Foundation and Student Life Foundation. The Ogden Foundation owns most of the land under WKU’s science campus, and the Student Life Foundation owns and operates WKU’s residence halls.

WKU’s athletics department would also be provided with The Medical Center orthopedics team as the exclusive team physicians, replacing their current doctors. Near the end of a slide announcing the Preston Center as manager of the new building, a small-type bullet point mentioned The Medical Center would eventually replace Graves-Gilbert as the official medical service provider on campus, well before WKU’s contract ends with the clinic in 2018.

No time was given for the change but in an additional information release handed out after the announcement, the statement explains the change will be made “at the appropriate time.” The agreement between WKU and The Medical Center indicates The Medical Center will take over the WKU clinic by Jan. 1, 2017.

According to the contract between WKU and Graves-Gilbert Clinic, WKU will not have to buy out the contract. Three separate periods of negotiation will be enacted with termination of the agreement after 180 days.

The Medical Center will also be guaranteed parking in the Douglas Keen parking lot for patients, as well as branding rights to WKU’s symbols and likeness for its advertising.

After a speedy detailing of the particulars, the board went into its voting session.

The Argument

The meeting began with two new regents, Julie Hinson of Prospect and Jason McKinney of Scottsville, taking their oaths of office. Then Board Chair Freddie Higdon explained the parliamentary procedure of how regents would express their opinions to the board.

Board members were given two chances to speak for up to 10 minutes without the ability to share or save time.

Faculty Regent Barbara Burch questioned why regents were only allowed to speak twice during the discussion and was concerned that they wouldn’t be able to ask additional questions after further details were revealed. Higdon said the procedure was based on Robert’s Rules of Order in which the board bylaws are based and that a vote would have to be made to change the bylaws if they wished to change the procedure.

“I still don’t understand why we are doing this now,” Burch said. “In the 20 years since President Ransdell has been here, we’ve never used this procedure until now. It feels like an obstruction to the discussion.”

In a media briefing on Friday afternoon, Ransdell agreed he couldn’t remember a time when discussions had used this procedure before, but that it was important for the board to have an organized discussion.

After nearly 10 minutes of back and forth between Higdon, Birch and Board Parliamentarian Randall Capps, speaking from the regents commenced.

Regent Philip Bale, who abstained from voting due to his involvement with Graves-Gilbert, began the discussion by speaking against the deal. Bale said he was concerned WKU was entering into the competitive business of medicine in Bowling Green that may have lasting “chilling” effects in the community.

“In my opinion, there will be fallout with many constituents on campus if the decision is made,” Bale said. “The decision to move forward will sever many relationships, both old and new.”

But not everyone saw as a negative for WKU.

“When I sit down and look at the positives (of the deal), I’m overwhelmed by the opportunities,” Higdon said.

Regent John Ridley said he was concerned regents have not been able to gauge public response or confer with the medical community on the impact of this proposal.

“The 99-year agreement sets a dangerous precedent,” Ridley said. “This is a bad deal because of the timing and the situation in the community. We will not be able to control the risk.”

During the second round of comments, the semantics of whether the board was discussing a deal or a gift came into play.

Regent Gillard Johnson said he saw the new building as a gift that will make the campus more attractive to all students.

“The Board charged the president years ago with bringing this campus into the future,” Johnson said. “I think this puts out in front of the whole community and the Commonwealth that we are moving forward and developing for students.”

In Burch’s and Ridley’s rebuttals, they questioned how the deal could be called a gift when The Medical Center was being allowed to see customers on campus and had access to WKU’s branding.

“The traditional sense of a gift… its probably more of a business deal,” Ransdell said in a media briefing Friday afternoon. “But if you follow my presidency at all, you know I’m not going to turn my back on $22 million.”

Discussions continued around the board, with some regents choosing only to speak once but as each members’ turns were used, the sides became more resigned in their opinions.

“I believe we are beginning to repeat ourselves,” Hinson said after the hour and 30 minute mark. “Are we ready for a vote yet?”

The call to vote was made and the regents decided with Ridley, Birch, Student Regent Jay Todd Richey and Staff Regent Tamela Smith voting against and Higdon, Secretary Cynthia Harris, Hinson, Johnson, McKinney and Regent David Porter voting for.

After nearly a month of researching the proposal and a two hour discussion, the board of regents made a decision that will last 99 years.

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