The people who run the state’s only medical school say its national accreditation falls in jeopardy or is lost, if money isn’t raised for a new, $75 million structure at its Kansas City campus.
“If you're not an accredited medical school, your students can't take board examinations. Your graduates cannot get into residency programs that are accredited. And in most jurisdictions if you can't sit for your boards and you don't graduate from an accredited residency program you can't practice (medicine), you can't get a license. So accreditation is a huge deal,” said Dr. Glen Cox, the dean in charge of keeping the school OK with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the national group that certifies medical schools.
The current education building on the school’s Kansas City campus was built in 1976 and officials here say if it isn’t obsolete it is nearly so, especially given the changes happening in the ways doctors and other health professionals are trained.
“A building built in the 1970s just can't fit the technology needs of today,” said Dr. Steven Stites, acting executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center, which includes the medical school. “We have a structural problem and we can’t renovate it. It would cost more to fix it up than it would to replace it.”
Lecture halls, even in the first year of study, now are considered less important to learning than small practice rooms that allow for simulations that mimic the conditions students — as doctors — will face when they encounter real patients. Also, with growing emphasis on coordinated care within the health care industry, schooling now focuses increasingly on teamwork, not just among fellow medical students but also drawing in nursing students and other health-care trainees.
The school has some spaces for that sort of teaching by doing in small groups, but not enough, according to the people in charge. The accreditation process is so meticulous, as described by Cox, that it even dictates how much private space and storage must be allowed for each resident.
Cox said he is among the few people at the medical school to remember the accreditation problems it experienced in the 1990s, a years-long ordeal he said he would prefer not to live again. And that was before he was the administrator tasked with keeping those things in order.
Need for more docs
Besides warding off accreditation woes, a new school would allow for training more doctors, KU officials said. Experts across the country for years have warned of doctor shortages that have since arrived and are growing and of the need to expand medical schools to slow or reverse that trend.
KU between 1998 and 2007, according to medical school statistics, graduated an average of about 165 medical students per year and 41 percent (an average of about 67 graduates per year) stayed in the state.
The new building would allow the school to have 25 more students per class year in Kansas City and — after counting graduates from expanded satellite campuses in Wichita and Salina — the state should see 96 new KU-trained doctors a year practicing in the state by 2016, according to projections prepared by KU. That would be a net gain of almost 30 doctors a year.
With a generation of baby-boom doctors retiring or soon to retire, many Kansas towns struggle to recruit new doctors. A disproportionate number of the doctors working in the state’s rural and underserved areas are KU graduates.
There are about 259 doctors per 100,000 U.S. residents. In Kansas, however, there are only about 213 doctors per 100,000 residents. The state also is below the national average when it comes to primary care doctors.
According to KU estimates, the state will need 213 new doctors a year by 2030 just to maintain the state’s current below-average ratio. To match the national average, it would need about 285 new doctors a year by 2030.
The tricky part
It’s been known since Coronado traipsed the Plains that gold doesn’t always turn up in Kansas. And, unfortunately, Dr. Glen Cox did not win the Lottery last week (he said), so KU is struggling to come up with a way to pay for the school building that KU and other higher education officials say it must have and that the state needs.
Though this year’s new school lunch guidelines are generally a hit with nutrition experts and school officials, Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp, a Republican who represents the state's largely rural 1st District, said that’s not what he’s hearing from parents and students.
“Parents are frustrated that the lower calorie limits are leaving their children hungry, and therefore unable to concentrate in the classroom or without the energy they need to participate in after-school sports,” Huelskamp told KHI News Service.
Weeks after the guidelines went into effect, some students in his district made a music video protesting the guidelines:
Give me some seconds I need to get
some food today My friends are at the
corner store Getting junk so they
don’t waste away.
The video — called “We Are Hungry,” spoofing a pop song by the band Fun — has been viewed nearly 800,000 times already, and last week was covered widely by the national media and was featured on Comedy Central's The Daily Show.
Much of the video shows student athletes without energy and passing out en masse.
However, federally funded school lunches are not intended to serve as a sports training table for student athletes, said Cheryl Johnson, who heads the Child Nutrition and Wellness program at the Kansas State Department of Education.
She said the guidelines were intended to make sure school lunches provide one-third of the average daily calorie needs of students, by age group.
Johnson said that additional helpings of fruits and vegetables remain available and federally subsidized for those who want them and that students who want seconds of other items can always purchase them.
Push to repeal the guidelines
The new guidelines were championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, in part to help stem the rising tide of childhood obesity in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than a third of all children in the U.S. were overweight or obese in 2008.
The new guidelines include the first-ever caps on calories provided in school meals, which Huelskamp said were misguided.
“Childhood obesity is certainly a problem in America, but it is not the prerogative of the federal government to put every child on a diet,” Huelskamp said. “It is the right and responsibility of the parents to counter their children’s health issues.”
Huelskamp is co-sponsoring legislation that would repeal the new nutritional guidelines and reinstate the old ones, which had been in place for 15 years.
"The USDA's new school lunch guidelines are a perfect example of what is wrong with government: misguided inputs, tremendous waste, and unaccomplished goals. Thanks to the Nutrition Nannies at the USDA, America's children are going hungry at school," Huelskamp wrote in press release unveiling the “No Hungry Kids Act,” co-sponsored by Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King.