In two years covering government for the Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper, Andy Marso has become a familiar presence at the Kansas Statehouse with a reputation for tenacity.
Now, he's written a book that helps explain the source of his dogged determination. It's titled "Worth the Pain: How Meningitis Nearly Killed Me — Then Changed My Life for the Better."
Eight years ago, Marso spent more than four months in the hospital — including horrifying days in a "tank room," where doctors incrementally cut off dying skin and flesh from his feet and hands. He was left with his right thumb and the balls of his feet but lost his fingers and toes. After the cutting came hours and days of intense pain.
The ordeal left Marso shaken, both mentally and physically. The serial amputations forced him to spend months relearning basic tasks such as walking and eating and he grappled with some of life's fundamental questions in the process.
It essentially is a success story centered on answers he found to those questions.
"You are entitled to nothing. But you can accomplish anything," Marso writes in the last chapter.
And he found a deeper faith in God.
"The way I saw it, if God did not exist, then all of this had happened at random. I had somehow won an absurdly awful reserve-lottery and gotten a disease that afflicted a tiny number of people — a disease threatening to rob me of my limbs. I couldn't stomach that. I had to believe that there was a God, and that this was part of his plan for me, even if it did not seem fair."
Unable to get out of bed for months, Marso thought about the things that wouldn't be, such as months or years of carefree fun after graduation living in an already-leased bachelor pad in Kansas City with friends:
"That was supposed to be the place where I would spend a year living with my best friends, playing tennis, watching movies, having barbecues, telling stories and laughing over beers out on the balcony. That was my laid-back and lovely vision of life before meningitis. The first few months of that life already had been stolen and I felt the truth closing in: I might never get back there."
Marso will be signing copies of his book at the Washburn University Holiday Open House. 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Wed. Dec. 4 at Memorial Union, lower level (map)
Rural hospitals could provide critical help addressing the state’s expected doctor shortage, according to Dr. Douglas Girod, the new executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center.
“This is one of those areas where if you really want to link physicians with where they need to be with funding of the educational enterprise…potentially community hospitals can step into the role,” Girod told KHI News Service.
KU officials also are planning a new $75 million medical education building on the Kansas City, Kan., campus to help train more doctors and are seeking funding help from the Legislature this year.
KU officials estimate Kansas will need 213 new doctors a year by 2030 just to maintain what is now a physician-per-resident ratio that lags the national average. To meet the national average ratio, Kansas would need about 285 new doctors a year by 2030.
Girod said community hospitals could help address doctor shortages in rural areas by funding residency slots through federal Medicare payments.
According to medical center officials, The University of Kansas Hospital pays for 280 residency slots, augmenting its federal funding with money from its clinical operations and with assistance to other hospitals
KU has 511 residency slots in Kansas City and 250 at its Wichita campus.
Kansas has done a good job trying to seed rural communities with more doctors, said Brock Slabach, senior vice president of the National Rural Health Association. He said KU’s campus in Salina was a good example of that.
National medical school accrediting bodies, Slabach said, worry about the training and oversight residents might receive in remote areas so have been reluctant to sign off on training programs outside metropolitan areas.
The federal government has also been slow to implement legislation authorizing rural training tracks, he said. And community hospitals have been reluctant to take on the responsibility because of the added costs of overseeing residents.
Though it can be hard to get them there, once young physicians arrive in smaller towns, they tend to energize the local medical communities.
“It stimulates the physicians in those communities,” he said. “They are challenged a bit in terms of their assumptions and what they have learned. They have someone coming out maybe with some different perspectives on things because of their more recent education.”
KU efforts to construct its new medical building hit a snag in the Legislature last week, when the Senate Ways and Means Committee voted to cut $10 million that Gov. Sam Brownback proposed for the project.
The House Appropriations Committee today approved the $10 million.
In his proposed two-year budget, Gov. Sam Brownback included $3 million in fiscal 2014 and $7 million in fiscal 2015 for KU's effort to build a new $75 million medical education building. The governor also endorsed giving the medical center $35 million in bonding authority for the project.
KU officials say they could train about 25 new doctors a year on the Kansas City campus after the improvements, and need the new facilities anyway or else the school's accreditation could be in peril.
Kathy Damron, a lobbyist for KU, said the facility is needed, in part, to integrate instruction of doctors, nurses and other medical staff, currently trained in separate facilities.
"It will allow the doctor to learn with the nurse, with the anesthesiologist and so on — all in a simulation lab. Right now, we train them all separately and throw them in the hospital and say 'now work together.' And that doesn't really work. That's the modality that schools of medicine are now moving to," Damron said. "The accreditors want to see that we're moving in the right direction to change the modality in which we're teaching our medical students.
Should the state funding come through, Girod said he was confident that KU could raise the $22 million it has pledged toward the building.
He said he would like to have the building ready by 2017, constructed on what is now a parking lot at the northeast corner of northeast corner of Rainbow Boulevard and 39th Street.
“When (donors) think about how they want to invest their funds,” he said, “they want to invest in an area where they are going to see some pretty tangible results. And I think it’s very easy to see a very tangible result from (the building). It will impact generations and that is something that will excite some potential donors.”
Girod also touched on other topics during the interview, including:
• How KU’s recent National Cancer Institute designation helps its education mission: “That creates a culture of clinical, intellectual curiosity that already we are seeing synergies from.”
• The burgeoning relationship between KU and Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo.: “The potential for that collaboration to grow the research enterprise for both of our organizations is immense and it’s wonderful clinically and it’s great for the kids and it’s great from an education perspective.”
• Status of the proposed School of Public Health: “We have had the work group looking at the combination of feasibility, structure and then financing and we are working down that list. It’s a unique school in that it will involve several campuses…which is a much more dispersed model than a lot of places. It creates challenges but it also creates opportunities because each has different strengths, in part because each sits in a different part of the state.”
The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department announced today that it has partnered with the University of Kansas to form the state's first "Academic Health Department."
Among other things, the research skills of the KU Work Group on Community Health and Development will be utilized to better gauge effectiveness of services and strategies deployed by the health department.
Dan Partridge, the health department's director, said the Academic Health Department would play a pivotal role in helping his agency evaluate and document the successes and failures of policies and systems that aim to improve community health.
“A major focus will be to answer the question: How well are community-based efforts working to improve health,” said Partridge. “We hope the answers will help inform future decisions promoting the health and vitality of Douglas County.”
The Academic Health Department will also function like a teaching hospital for KU students in applied behavioral psychology, the academic home of the KU Work Group, said Vicki Collie-Akers, who leads the group's research efforts.
“We hope to ultimately create a shared research agenda with the health department...to merge our goals with theirs,” said Collie-Akers, who will have an office at the health department.
The health agency and the KU work group already have a history of working together — most recently in facilitating a Comprehensive Community Health Assessment as part of the agency's work toward accreditation.
Among the short-term goals of the Academic Health Department will be implementation and evaluation of the county's first Community Health Plan, another component of the health department's work toward accreditation.
It's difficult to gauge how many Academic Health Departments there are in the U.S., said Kathleen Amos, who leads the AHD Learning Community for the Public Health Foundation in Washington, D.C. There are at least 36, from a list she's informally compiled, but she said that is likely far fewer than there actually are.
She pointed to the most recent National Profile of Local Health Departments (pages 71 and 72), which indicates that about 20 percent of health departments nationwide have worked with a four-year academic institution on program evaluation, and about 35 percent have some sort of written agreement with a university.
Morgan Murray is too young to have any idea who Doogie Howser is, but the 16-year-old from Shawnee is cut from a cloth similar to the prodigy doctor in the '90s TV show.
Even while finishing high school and getting a jump on college, Murray finds time to be flown across the country several times a year to help teach doctors twice her age how to perform challenging tracheal intubations, a procedure to get oxygen to patients with blocked airways.
"It's a very high-stress, very time-oriented procedure," said Murray. "I am helping teach the doctors how to intubate using high-fidelity simulators. I act as their nurse, getting them anything they need. Then I help debrief and tell them what they can do better."
Murray came into the teaching opportunity while sitting in on classes, which were taught by her mother. Two years ago, the instructor in the nurse role was out sick, and Murray seized the opportunity to fill in.
Now Murray is seizing another opportunity to get a jump on her career at the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science.
The two-year program is a sort of fast-track boarding school at Fort Hays State University. Each year, up to 40 high school juniors from across the state move into a campus dorm and complete their last two years of high school coursework while also taking college math and science courses.
Murray said that the academy — often called KAMS by students — provides an environment where staff and other students drive each other to set goals high.
"I've been wanting to pursue medicine since I was in third grade," Murray said. "KAMS has pushed me to do even more than I thought I could. I've done more in this semester than I thought was even possible."
Plugging the brain drain
Murray is one of 68 students currently enrolled in the academy. Another 53 students have graduated from KAMS since the first class in 2009.
The Kansas Legislature founded KAMS in 2006, in part to give students like Murray a learning opportunity in Kansas that would challenge the state's most talented students, said director Ron Keller.
"The academy was formed to keep the students here in the state — to keep intellectual capital from leaving Kansas, to keep from losing our best and brightest kids," Keller said.
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.
Author and economist John Goodman is scheduled to talk about his ideas for reforming the U.S. health care system at an appearance next week at the University of Kansas Dole Institute of Politics.
Goodman sometimes is called "the father of health savings accounts," and has a new book: "Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis." He co-wrote the 1992 book "Patient Power: Solving America's Healthcare Crisis."
He also developed the Health Care Contract with America, a five-point plan for reforming health care, which has been cited by the Congressional Health Care Caucus, a study group for Republican congresspersons and members of their staffs.
In his new book, among other things, Goodman calls for abolishing Medicaid and moving the program's beneficiaries into private insurance plans. Medicaid enrollees, under his plan, would instead get a $2,000 per person tax credit or refund that they could apply toward the purchase of private health insurance.
He also recommends replacing much of Medicaid outpatient spending for those who are not elderly or disabled with a "health stamp" system modeled on the food stamp program. Beneficiaries would be given the stamps and allowed to spend them as they saw fit for medical care. He also favors abolishing the Children's Health Insurance Program.
The main point of his book is that the current health system has neutered the function of pricing in the health care market, thereby driving up costs. Consumers, he argues, don't pay the real costs of medicine and largely are unaware of them. Providers aren't reimbursed for their true costs but instead take whatever the insurance companies and government are willing to pay.
"So, the overall conclusion of the book is that when we take prices out of the system we create perverse incentives," which have led to higher costs and inefficiencies, Goodman said in an interview with KHI News Service.