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The smoking scalpel 

Joann Coleman, a scrappy lawyer, has been raising questions about the proposed affiliation between UAMS and St. Vincent Infirmary Health. The institutions are exploring a way to combine efforts, but hesitate to use the word "merger" and insist that the public nature of one institution and the Catholic nature of the other will not be compromised.

Coleman was on hand with a tape recorder at a meeting Monday night of the Hillcrest Residents Association at which incumbent members of the Little Rock Board of Directors appeared.

Coleman recorded her questions to Dean Kumpuris, a physician who practices at St. Vincent. He supports the combination, naturally. In the course of fielding concerns about the future of War Memorial Park (it's safe, Kumpuris said) and the technology park (it's a wonderful economic development tool and has no relationship to the UAMS/St. Vincent combine other than UAMS' sponsorship, he said), he talked specifically about the med center affiliation in assuring Coleman it wouldn't bleed over into the tech park.

Kumpuris: "All St. Vincent will do is manage the hospital."

Coleman: "It would manage the hospital?"

Kumpuris: "It would manage the university hospital, not the medical school."

Coleman: "It would manage the hospital is what you're telling me."

Kumpuris: "That's right."

That's a more definitive view of the potential arrangement — a study of which has not even been approved yet by the legislature – than either entity has suggested so far. I asked UAMS about it. Spokeswoman Leslie Taylor replied:

"There has been no change in our position. We're not considering a merger or any scenario that would put UAMS services under the governance of another entity."

Taylor said that the Times raised fair questions about the future of many services and tasks should UAMS and St. Vincent work together. A key question as yet untouched by St. Vincent is what sort of activities the Catholic Church, which ultimately must approve the merger, would tolerate from a partner if those services differed from church doctrine. These include patient services such as tubal ligations, vasectomies, emergency treatment for rape, ectopic pregnancies, health-threatening pregnancies, birth control pills and condoms and other devices; in vitro fertilization; research in areas ranging from stem cells to efficacy of birth control methods, and personnel policies, such as collective bargaining and the existing university non-discrimination policy toward gay people. The Catholic Church has been at the fore of efforts nationwide to battle equal rights for gay people. Many questions. So far, not many answers, though Kumpuris seems pretty clear on things.

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