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Clinic hopes to catalyze ‘an epidemic of health’

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, at 10:12 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, at 10:25 p.m.

Driving along K-96 on the north side of Wichita, it’s hard to miss the white geodesic domes of the Riordan Clinic.

The Riordan Clinic, 3100 N. Hillside, is a nonprofit, nutrition-based health facility with the mission to “stimulate an epidemic of health.”

“Our lab will often uncover deficiencies or imbalances that can be corrected that will then promote the patients’ own healing mechanisms to work better,” said Ron Hunninghake, Riordan’s chief medical officer, who practiced family medicine in Salina before joining the clinic in 1989.

The clinic, officials said, tests for biochemical levels that aren’t typically part of medical assessments.

“Nutritional therapies are more like gardening,” Hunninghake said. “You’re doing an inventory of the status of the soil and then when you find there is a deficiency or gap in nutrients fill it in with a supplement or a food.”

But is not an alternative to or replacement for a primary care provider, Hunninghake said.

“We tell patients we want you to see your primary care doctor first and do the appropriate referrals. We’re not here to replace conventional diagnosis.”

The clinic has several medical doctors on staff in addition to a chiropractor, registered nurses and other staff, including a naturopathic doctor.

Officials said their laboratory can test for parasites, food sensitivity, hormones, and vitamins and minerals.

From the ‘fringe’

Hunninghake said clinic staff are engaged in a number of types of medicine: lifestyle medicine, integrated medicine, nutritional medicine, corrective medicine and regenerative medicine.

“In general, we are moving very much away from what used to be the fringe,” said CEO Brian Riordan, son of the clinic’s late founder, Hugh Riordan.

“There was a time that people thought Dr. Riordan was way off-base with his measurement of nutrient levels, but we are biological creatures. We do depend on good nutrition,” Hunninghake said.

Although most medical schools do not teach about nutritional medicine, the clinic is working with the University of Kansas School of Medicine to accept several students for an elective rotation, Hunninghake said.

“There are more doctors in the country who are growing dissatisfied with just giving a medicine to treat the symptoms,” Hunninghake said. “In my mind, I don’t think (patients) have an Advil or Prozac deficiency. I’m thinking something native to their normal biochemistry is out of balance.”

Preventive care

The idea of preventive care has grown popular over the years and is a focus of workplace wellness programs and the new federal health care law.

“Obamacare emphasizes going that way to more prevention and much less last-minute expensive intervention,” Riordan said.

But Hunninghake thinks that individuals will ultimately have to make the decisions about their own health.

“You can’t legislate health. ... People will fight you for their junk food. They’ll fight you for their bad habits,” Hunninghake said. “(Health care is) getting so expensive and the politics is getting so uncertain that many people are asking what can I do to take care of myself so I’m not so dependent on the ‘sickness care’ in this country.”

The clinic’s focus on preventive care could help reduce health care costs, Hunninghake said. The clinic would like to work with local businesses to use their corporate wellness program, called Health Markers.

“Eventually, I would love to see Wichita known as an integrated health hub,” Riordan said.

Clinic’s challenges

Riordan said the biggest challenge for the clinic in recent years has been going from an entrepreneurial phase led by his father to a professional organization that is led by a team that shares the responsibilities of leadership.

“Every organization goes through a lifecycle,” Riordan said. “What was once dependent on one man is now shared by eight leaders. It’s growing more quickly as we move from what was the fringe into more of the mainstream.”

The clinic has expanded its board of directors from three people to six people, and it is looking to expand even more. It is also in the process of recruiting additional staff.

Although the organization suffered significant financial losses, in the past two years it has reduced expenses in an effort to stabilize.

According to the clinic’s 990 IRS tax forms, its total net assets dropped to about $2.6 million in 2011, compared with about $2.8 million in 2010 and about $3.1 million in 2009.

The organization also reported that its endowment funds totaled about $1.17 million, slightly up from the previous year.

The majority of patients pay for the care themselves, Hunninghake said, although some third-party insurance will cover some procedures.

Some insurance companies consider the Riordan Clinic’s practices experimental or without scientifically supported medical benefit.

According to the 2011 990 tax form, the clinic received about $1.5 million in patient fees and nearly $203,000 for lab services.

Additional revenue of about $175,800 was generated from an event during which patients could self-order tests without a doctor’s prescription.

Medicare will cover some of the labs, visits and follow ups for patients, Hunninghake said.

The clinic also sells an assortment of the supplements and vitamins that its doctors prescribe. In 2011, supplement sales totaled $770,755, according to a clinic official.

Midwest legacy

Although he still retains the title of CEO, Riordan said he was heavily involved in the clinic in 2010 and into mid-2011. After he was appointed CEO, there was some turnover at the clinic, which now employs 30 people full-time.

He also works for private equity firms around the world as a turnaround CEO, usually after a firm acquires another company and wants to make changes.

“At the Riordan Clinic, we decided to deliberately and carefully grow the existing medical team to lead the organization into the next generation,” Riordan said.

Riordan said the clinic has also focused on rebranding itself.

“My father liked to have it mysterious and a little unknown,” he said. “It worked for that time and place in history, but at a certain point we needed to cultivate more visibility in Wichita, Kansas, and around the world, so we changed the name of the center to the Riordan Clinic.”

The name change, Riordan thinks, is similar to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which is renowned worldwide.

“We would like to be the nutritional medicine equivalent of the Mayo Clinic,” he said.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com.

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