Campus News

Investment in UK Yielding Returns for State in Better Health, Economy

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 27, 2014) — The University of Kentucky is more intently focusing on its mission of serving communities by working with communities across the state.

But addressing and solving Kentucky's challenges — particularly in health care — means further expanding a network of advanced clinical care across the Commonwealth while finding ways to grow the university's ability to do cutting-edge research into the most intractable of problems.

That focus was the primary message of UK President Eli Capilouto and Dr. Mike Karpf, the university's executive vice president for health affairs, during a recent appearance before a joint meeting of the state legislature's Economic Development and Industry committees.

"We are the University for Kentucky," Capilouto told lawmakers during the recent meeting that occurred on the UK campus. "I see it as I travel around the state, meet with your colleagues, break bread in living rooms and backyards across Kentucky. People hold great hope for our state through UK. And, at an increasing rate, we're working in, for and with communities to make that brighter future a reality."

To that end, Capilouto told lawmakers that the state's $280 million annual investment in UK results in a now more than $3 billion university budget, which centers around four missions -- teaching, research, service and health care.

In particular, Capilouto said that state investment — even in the midst of a struggling national economy — has helped UK's health care system add more than 5,000 jobs in the last decade.

UK health care jobs have an average full-time salary of nearly $70,000 annually. Moreover, he told lawmakers, that the institution's research efforts resulted in an over $400 million contribution to the state's economy last year and nearly 9,500 jobs at UK and across the Commonwealth.

The university is now seeking to grow that economic impact even more with some $1.3 billion in self-financed construction projects underway on the UK campus

"These proof points are evidenced-based results of our institutional 'why,'" he said. "Why are we here? We are here for Kentucky, for the people we serve, and our impact is felt in all corners of the Commonwealth."

Increasingly, Capilouto and Karpf said, the focus of UK's efforts is on addressing significant health issues across the Commonwealth that only the university is uniquely positioned to take on. For example, Capilouto said the state's five leading causes of preventable death include heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries.

The state is above the national average in incidences of those health challenges and they are, in many respects, most acutely felt throughout Eastern Kentucky.

In fact, Capilouto said, "Hundreds of Kentuckians (in the 5th Congressional District) die each year from chronic, preventable illnesses. This is a painfully important question of our day. And the University of Kentucky is uniquely positioned to help answer it."

Capilouto cited the fact that UK is one of only eight institutions in the country with the full range of health, professional and educational programs on one campus — a potentially incomparable setting to address issues whose challenges span across disciplines and areas of research.

At the same time, as Karpf pointed out to legislators, UK's academic medical center has spent the last 10 years creating a "regional referral network" of partnerships with local providers that ensures that more Kentuckians can stay closer to home while still receiving high-quality, advanced subspecialty care.

Karpf cited UK HealthCare's growing stroke care network, with 24 active hospitals across 400 miles, as an example of how a referral center can increase the quality of care for more Kentuckians. Similar networks have been established in heart and cancer, with Markey Cancer affiliates in cities ranging from Ashland to Louisville.

"The cumulative growth in our discharges (patients) exceeds a 90 percent increase over the last 10 years," Karpf said. "At this level, UK is near the Top 30 of Academic Medical Centers by discharge rate … we are treating more complex cases equivalent or higher than the 75 percentile of academic medical centers.

"Our strategy is focused on people … and ensuring them that the most complex cases can be treated without leaving the state."

A centerpiece of that strategy, Karpf said, is the growth in research capacity that can be translated to clinical outcomes — going from the lab to the bed in communities across Kentucky. UK, in fact, is now one of only 22 institutions in the country with three federally designated centers for aging, cancer and in translational science.

The most recent designation was from the National Cancer Institute for UK's Markey Cancer Center.

"As research and medicine continue to grow," Karpf said, "Kentuckians have greater access to the most advanced care."

Going forward, though, Capilouto cautioned that UK's capacity to grow both its research and clinical work is limited by a lack of space. "We don't have the adequate space to attract the next team (of researchers) to Kentucky who will help us address these challenges," he said.

Capilouto and Karpf said they are challenging the university and the state to not let such limits define Kentucky's future, however.

"We do a disservice if we dream too little dreams," Capilouto told lawmakers. "This is why we're here. We are the University of Kentucky — committed to our people and our Commonwealth."