TULSA — Just weeks after Oklahoma State University officials warned the university's teaching hospital could be forced to shut down in 18 months, the hospital appears to be on firmer financial footing.
OSU officials warned last month that OSU Medical Center would run out of money in a year and a half if it didn't receive $18.25 million in funding from the Oklahoma Legislature.
Lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin announced a tentative $7.1 billion budget earlier this month. The budget includes funding for the hospital that, together with matching funds from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, comes to $18.5 million.
Howard Barnett, president of the OSU Center for Health Sciences, said the funding puts the hospital and the medical school in a more stable position.
“We are extremely pleased,” Barnett said.
Before the budget agreement was announced, officials worried about the impact the hospital shutdown would have on the state's efforts to combat a shortage of primary care physicians. At the time, Barnett said the loss of the hospital's 154 medical residency positions would be “devastating.”
According to the 2012 edition of America's Health Rankings, a state-by-state breakdown of health factors, Oklahoma ranks 49th in the nation in terms of availability of primary care physicians. OSU has launched an effort to try to combat that shortage by creating residency positions in hospitals across rural Oklahoma.
Part of the reason for the doctor shortage is that Oklahoma's hospitals historically haven't had enough residency positions for all the medical students in its two medical schools. That means medical students are forced to complete their residencies in nearby states such as Texas, Kansas and Missouri.
Because doctors typically go to work near where they complete their residencies, Barnett said, Oklahoma has been training young doctors, only to see them go to work somewhere else.
The budget deal also allowed the hospital to continue seeking a private partner to operate the hospital, which is owned by the city of Tulsa. The hospital previously partnered with St. John Health System to operate the hospital, but that relationship ended last year.
OSU officials are in talks with Mercy, a St. Louis-based hospital system, to operate the hospital. In a statement, Mercy Regional President Di Smalley said a partnership between Mercy and OSU Medical would allow the two entities to better address the state's doctor shortage.
“Our state needs the OSU teaching hospital not only to provide physicians, but also to care for the underserved in Tulsa and northeast Oklahoma,” Smalley said.
Barnett said a partnership with Mercy would be a good fit for OSU because the hospital system has a strong presence in rural Oklahoma. The OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine was founded to send doctors to rural and underserved parts of the state. Mercy is already at work in many of those areas, he said.