The University of Louisville is asking for court-ordered mediation in its ongoing dispute with Norton Healthcare over the operation of Kosair Children’s Hospital.
Last week, talks to resolve the disagreement broke down. The dispute began in August after Norton announced an agreement to jointly operate Kosair Children’s Hospital and Kentucky Children’s Hospital in Lexington with University of Kentucky HealthCare.
At the heart of the dispute is that Kosair Children’s is UofL’s pediatric teaching hospital, but Norton’s lease to run the hospital says the land must be used to benefit UofL.
In September, Norton challenged UofL’s right to evict Norton in court. UofL filed a response Wednesday to that lawsuit. Norton executives last week told employees in a letter that they’d like to amend the lease; for their part, UofL wanted to have discussions about the dispute in the presence of Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway.
In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, David Dunn, UofL’s executive vice president for health affairs, called that ”wholly unacceptable” without Beshear and Conway present in the negotiations.
We believe we are extremely close to an agreement with Norton, with only a few business issues remaining to solve. In fact, on January 16, Norton Healthcare shared with Jefferson County’s state legislative delegation an outline of a proposal that we believed was the foundation for agreement. However, that framework has since been taken off the table by Norton.
“The bottom line is: we want to talk, we want to work this out, and we are extremely disappointed that Norton won’t come to the table with UofL to resolve our issues collaboratively,” Dunn said in the statement.
For their part, Norton said UofL doesn’t have the right to evict it from Kosair Children’s—which is how it’s interpreting a notice of breach sent early in the dispute—because the lease is between Norton and the state. Norton characterizes UofL’s aim as an attempt “to strong-arm Norton into giving U of L exclusive control over Kosair Children’s Hospital” and contends that Wednesday’s filing is a “continuation of its hostile and damaging attack” on the hospital.”
Norton is concerned that U of L efforts to seize exclusive control over Kosair Children’s Hospital will result in U of L staff serving specialized areas that they are not best qualified to serve. For example, U of L seeks to restrict the medical staff of Kosair Children’s Hospital to U of L physicians only, by excluding other community pediatric specialty physicians from practicing at Kosair Children’s Hospital. This is contrary to the model of a shared relationship with community and academic physicians that has been the hallmark of Kosair Children’s Hospital for more than 80 years.
Norton said it will continue to operate in Kosair Children’s with UofL under a 2008 affiliation agreement and more than 100 other agreements already in place.
In its response to Norton, UofL said it “denies … the allegation that CHI would ever have been in a position to to control Kosair children’s Hospital.” That’s a reference to Catholic Health Initiatives, with which UofL entered into an agreement in 2012 to operate University of Louisville Hospital—a move which draw some community criticism.