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A conversation with Dave Sanford

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, at 11 p.m.

For Dave Sanford, being the CEO of GraceMed is not a job – it’s a calling.

“When I came to GraceMed in 2004, I had been praying that God, for the last years of my vocational life, would put me in a place where I could really make a difference in the lives of other people,” Sanford said.

“He’s answered my prayer.”

Sanford was born and raised in Wichita, graduating from East High School. He has a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Kansas.

He came back to Wichita in 1974 and spent a year as a school social worker in USD 259. He then worked with various United Way organizations around the country for five years.

After that, he worked in sales, marketing and logistics for an out-of-state medical manufacturing company, returning to Wichita in 1998 to take care of his mother.

He worked in a number of positions, and then in 2004, he was named CEO of GraceMed, a health ministry of the United Methodist Church, after his mother-in-law, who worked for the clinic, encouraged him to apply.

“Even though I didn’t have clinic experience, I had enough business experience that they were willing to take a chance on me,” Sanford said.

What have been some of the biggest challenges for GraceMed in the last few years?

When I joined GraceMed we were really on the ropes financially. The board was close to making a decision to close the ministry down, and fortunately, through what I consider to be a number of miracles, through the first few months we were able to sustain our operations and even begin to develop a vision for growth. Quite honestly, because of a very capable staff, a strong board of directors and overwhelming community support, we have grown rapidly over these last eight years.

In 2004, we provided health care for about 15,000 patient visits, and in this year of 2012, just concluded, we provided care for about 75,000 patient visits – a five-time increase over these last several years.

Do you consider yourself an advocate?

When you look at the various aspects of advocacy, we certainly will be active in talking to our legislators about the benefits not only from a health perspective but economically for expansion of Medicaid.

And one of the areas that we certainly will be addressing this year where we’ve not been effective in the past is to advocate to the general population. Those of us who have always had private insurance, we don’t understand the challenges people face when they don’t have insurance, and somehow, we need to connect the general populace with the perception of what it would be like if they were uninsured.

What are your future goals with the clinic?

Some of the issues we’re discussing and already taking action on are identifying “health deserts” in the Sedgwick County area – areas where we have significant populations of people who are either uninsured or underinsured and lack quick access to health care facilities.

For example, in the southern part of the city and county, there really are very few primary care practices, yet we have a number of low-income areas, including a number of trailer parks along I-235 and up and down Meridian, down toward Haysville and Oaklawn, Planeview area. … We’re looking at the opportunity to establish primary care clinics in that area of town to give easy access.

What are going to be some of the biggest upcoming challenges in health care?

Access and workforce go hand in hand. … We have to do something about both, establishing additional capacity and ensuring that we have enough qualified workforce to meet that demand. The other significant thing that’s got to happen, not just for community health centers but for the private medical community, is the reimbursement is going to have to be sufficient to stay viable.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

There’s a couple of things I particularly enjoy. One of them is walking through our lobbies or any of our clinics and greeting our patients, knowing they’re in good hands and knowing that we’re achieving our goal of compassionate, quality health care. That’s kind of my overall joy.

I’d like to think most people consider me a people person, and I love being in the community, going to Topeka, meeting with our ministry partners, talking about new ways to deliver care, breaking down silos, developing new models so that we can be more effective in touching lives. … It’s just a real joy to work with the people that live in this community.

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

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