TULSA — Oklahoma State University officials are warning that a lack of funding could force OSU Medical Center to shut down, crippling efforts to reverse a doctor shortage across the state.
The Tulsa-based teaching hospital affiliated with the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine will run out of money in a year and a half if the Legislature doesn't act, officials say.
An economic impact study released Friday shows the OSU Medical Center contributes 2,375 jobs to the Tulsa area, generating more than $120 million in income.
According to the internal study, prepared by OSU's Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, the hospital generated about $1.2 million in state sales tax during the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Hospital officials are seeking $18.25 million from the state, without which officials say the hospital, owned by the city of Tulsa, would need to shut down. If the hospital receives any amount less than that, it will need to begin to cut services, officials say.
Howard Barnett, president of the OSU Center for Health Sciences, said losing the hospital would be “devastating” to the medical school's efforts to combat a shortage of primary care doctors in Oklahoma.
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.
OSU Medical Center has 154 medical residency positions. If the hospital loses any or all of its residency positions, it would be a major blow to the medical school's efforts to reverse the state's doctor shortage, Barnett said.
The college's relationship with the hospital is a major recruiting tool, Barnett said. Having a teaching hospital nearby helps differentiate OSU from other osteopathic schools across the country, and losing that hospital could make it more difficult for the college to fill whatever residency positions are left.
“We're scared to death of what it would do to the medical school itself,” he said.
This isn't the first time OSU Medical Center has faced the prospect of shutting down. The center nearly closed its doors in 2009, but remained open when the city of Tulsa created a trust to take over the hospital. The state provided $5 million annually for five years to keep the hospital running, and St. John Health System took over operations at the hospital.
But the hospital's relationship with St. John ended last year, and the temporary state funding is about to end, making the hospital's future uncertain once again.
Jake Whitener, a second-year medical student from Hulbert, said students “benefit hugely” from the hospital. Faculty members from the college also work at the hospital, meaning students are learning from practicing physicians.
Whitener said he's concerned about the impact the loss of the hospital would have on the state. Losing the hospital would drive students elsewhere for their residencies, and since those students are also often looking to start families, they're less likely to come back.
Whitener said he's committed to going to work in rural Oklahoma once he completes his training, whether he is able to complete his residency in Oklahoma or not.
“But,” he added, “I still need somewhere to train.”