Liberty Hospital officially joins University of Kansas Health System

University of Kansas Health System (Photo by Allison Kite - Missouri Independent)
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(Missouri Independent) – Despite resistance from lawmakers in both Kansas and Missouri, Liberty Hospital has officially joined the University of Kansas Health System, executives announced Monday.

Leaders of the health system announced the completion of the merger Monday in a short video Monday alongside the CEO of Liberty Hospital, located in the Kansas City suburbs north of the Missouri River.

Liberty’s leadership began looking in May 2023 to partner with another health system to help the hospital meet growing demand. It announced in October that it had chosen the University of Kansas. 

Raghu Adiga — who served as Liberty Hospital’s CEO and now is CEO of the Liberty market for KU — said the hospital’s board of trustees evaluated more than 30 potential partners. He said he’s “more than convinced” merging with the Kansas hospital system was the right decision.

“We share a commitment to putting patients first,” Adiga said. “We prioritize our people and believe in providing high-quality care close to home. To have a strong community, we need to have strong healthcare. We believe this relationship not only strengthens Liberty Hospital, but the Liberty community and the entire Northland.” 

Tammy Peterman, president of KU Health’s Kansas City Division, said about 35% of the health system’s patients currently come from Missouri, and KU already has clinics in the state. 

“We knew eventually we would need a way to care for more patients in Missouri and the Northland to keep care close to home,” Peterman said. “…So today is a big milestone for us as well: our very first hospital in Missouri.” 

Health system leaders did not take questions from journalists following the press conference. Asked about the terms of the deal, a spokeswoman for KU said in an email that the health system’s leaders are “celebrating the next couple of days” and were not available to comment.

KU and Liberty’s merger was met with disdain from some lawmakers in both Kansas and Missouri. Former Missouri Sen. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat, pushed legislation earlier this year to block the deal, calling it “mind-boggling” and saying the idea of a Kansas health system owning a Missouri hospital felt “terribly wrong.” 

But supporters of the deal argued Liberty needed a larger hospital partner to be able to grow and make investments in its facilities. A Liberty board member told lawmakers this spring that if the hospital didn’t merge with KU, it could be purchased by a for-profit chain and stop offering some of its services, becoming “a little bit more than a triage center.” 

Bob Page, president and CEO of the University of Kansas Health System, said it’s “incredibly difficult in health care today to remain a completely independent hospital” like Liberty.

“They found a new path forward to ensure they could continue to deliver high-quality care in the Northland for generations to come,” Page said. “By becoming part of this health system, they will be able to offer some of the most advanced treatments and expertise anywhere in the country.”

Razer’s legislation made it out of a Senate committee but never received a floor vote. 

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey also opposed the merger, writing in a letter to Senate leadership in January that the deal was illegal unless the Missouri General Assembly signed off on it. An attorney for Liberty said, however, that the deal was structured to comply with state laws. 

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, expressed frustration about the merger in a committee meeting in November, saying struggling hospitals in Kansas could have benefitted from a partnership with KU.

And Kansas Sen. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, filed legislation that would have required KU to get permission from the Kansas Legislature before entering a deal that involves acquiring, building, repairing, or improving property outside of Kansas. The bill never got a hearing.

In the meantime, the systems were working toward a finalized deal that is expected to include investment in Liberty’s facilities. 

Peterman said over the coming months, KU leadership will learn more about how Liberty operates and how it can be best integrated into the health system. 

“This includes everything from inpatient and ambulatory care to supply chain and branding,” she said. “Ultimately, we want to ensure we are one health system offering a seamless and consistent patient experience.”

(Photo by Allison Kite – Missouri Independent)

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Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.