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KU Health System Officials Ask Lawmakers To Let Them Continue Banning Guns

Stephen Koranda
Kansas Public Radio
Rick Johnson, head of security for the KU Health System, speaking to lawmakers at the Statehouse.

Officials from the University of Kansas Health System are asking state lawmakers to let them continue banning guns. State law will require the hospital to either allow concealed guns later this year or install more security, including metal detectors and security staff.

Bob Page, president and CEO of the health system, asked lawmakers Thursday for an exemption from the law. He says the current policy will put them at a competitive disadvantage compared to other hospitals in the area. He says they’ve heard from patients who say they’ll go to other facilities. It would also hurt recruitment and retention of staff.

Page says they haven’t had any issues over the last four years when they’ve had a temporary exemption from the law.

“Would we want to make any changes?” Page says. “We are on a trajectory to become one of the best in the country. Why in the world would we want anybody to put that at risk?”

Page backed up his point with a survey commissioned by the facility. The polling of 500 registered voters from the surrounding area showed broad support for allowing them to continue banning guns.

There are around 100 entrances into the hospital buildings that may need security if the law takes effect and they choose to continue barring guns. Page didn’t have an exact cost for securing them, but said it would be expensive.

“That would take money away from important patient care advances and staff advances, and that would be a big challenge for us,” Page says.

Rick Johnson, head of security at the health system, says they may need to triple their staff if the law takes effect as written, going from around 100 security staff to 300.

“We definitely are going to have to reassess,” Johnson says. “Frankly, that money could be better used in health care as opposed to the security for the place.”

A hospital facility can be a high-stress environment, says Dr. Lee Norman, chief medical officer for the KU Health System. He says adding guns into the mix could lead to violence.

“People can be rational when things are going fine, but in times of stress or sleep deprivation, they’re not the same people. Rational thought is not the strong suit of people who are grieving, tired, in pain or medicated,” Norman says.

Former Kansas lawmaker Travis Couture-Lovelady, now with the NRA, spoke against the bill. He says a ban on guns with no security checkpoints will only stop law-abiding citizens.

“You cannot guarantee that there are not guns going into the facility,” Couture-Lovelady says.

Republican Rep. Michael Houser says if the exemption is approved, he’d be left trusting that other people aren’t bringing guns into the building.

“I’m left not being able to defend myself. You’re responsible for my safety at that point. I feel I should be responsible for my safety,” Houser says.

The effort to exempt the KU Health System from state law is part of a broader discussion regarding guns in public buildings this session. There’s also a push to exempt universities from the requirement.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.