New OU hospitals management plans expansion
Oklahoma City — The first moment of truth for OU Medicine Inc. came at midnight Thursday.
While much of Oklahoma City was asleep, the new nonprofit took over ownership and management of the hospitals on the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center campus, as well as the OU Edmond facilities. HCA Healthcare, a for-profit company based in Tennessee, had owned and run the hospitals since 1998.
The first order of business was making sure that the hospitals' information technology systems still worked. If they didn't, medical records could become inaccessible, and the hospitals would struggle to even check patients in.
“It was a surreal moment, almost like Y2K for us,” said Chuck Spicer, president and CEO of OU Medicine Inc.
The systems worked, thanks to the efforts of teams of people over weeks, Spicer said. About 10 hours later, top health center officials and a cross-section of direct care employees gathered in the Children's Hospital lobby to celebrate. After a brief news conference, “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang boomed over the speakers, hundreds of plastic cups of sparkling grape juice made their way around the room and for once, the adults were the noisy ones in the hospital.
The new organization comes out of a partnership between OU and the University Hospitals Authority and Trust, a state agency. The state formed the trust in 1997 to allow a private entity to take over managing the hospitals, which were state-run at the time.
Jason Sanders, senior vice president and provost of the OU Health Sciences Center, said the new arrangement would allow more investment in the hospitals. It also will help with attracting employees who excel in clinical care and teaching medical students, he said.
“We are now poised to be even better,” he said. “To be broader. To be deeper.”
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- Video: OU hospitals transfer to new ownership
New nonprofit model
The University Hospitals Authority and Trust had to buy out HCA's stake in the hospitals for $750 million, though HCA continued to operate the hospitals until the transfer. Changing to a nonprofit owner means that profits will be reinvested locally, Spicer said, and decisions won't have to go through an out-of-state entity, he said.
Profits “can't be redistributed to shareholders,” he said. “Now, we will be able to dictate and determine our future. We will be able to set the priorities.”
About 200 people have been hired in anticipation of the transfer, taking over functions like information technology, human resources and accounting, Spicer said. Many of them are taking over support jobs previously done by HCA, he said, but others are working in patient care. He estimated the organization will hire about 100 more people this year.
The organization also has plans for about $500 million in upgrades to buildings and equipment, Spicer said. More than half of the funds invested will go into a 450,000-square-foot, 144-bed patient tower under construction next to OU Medical Center on NE 13th.
“This is not just for the sake of building things and hiring people,” he said. “This is to improve the lives of people.”
Dr. Morris Gessouroun, who specializes in critical care for pediatric patients, said the change will make it easier for hospital management and physicians to work together to make care better and more efficient.
“With an organization that is not Oklahoma based, it's much harder to achieve” effective cooperation, he said. “Now everyone's on the same page."
The handoff had been a long time coming. In October 2016, the regents approved a partnership with SSM Health, which runs St. Anthony's, but that deal fell through in March 2017.
Last summer, the OU board of regents announced OU Medicine Inc. would take over in fall 2017. At the news conference Thursday, OU Medicine Inc. chairman Mike Samis thanked the staff for their patience during the process.
“OU Medicine is now in business,” he said. “Today's about moving forward as a unified team.”