Health Care

June 21, 2012

Small Wichita-area hospitals focus on serving communities

Executives of smaller hospitals on the perimeter of the Wichita area say their hospitals are performing well, despite being in the shadows of Wichita’s much larger and broadly specialized acute care hospitals.

Executives of smaller hospitals on the perimeter of the Wichita area say their hospitals are performing well, despite being in the shadows of Wichita’s much larger and broadly specialized acute care hospitals.

Hospitals of all sizes and areas face similar challenges, particularly in reimbursement from private and government insurers as well as adjusting to new requirements and the effects of the 2010 federal health care law, which is currently being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the variety of services and capabilities offered at larger hospitals can sometimes lure patients – and business – away from small community hospitals.

That’s why it’s crucial for smaller hospitals to be a key part of their communities, to foster input from residents and anticipate and quickly react to services the community needs, executives said, while at the same time keeping in perspective their financial resources and not succumbing to a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.

“I think the key thing is that we have to prove to the community that we’re relevant in their health care decisions,” said Steve Kelly, CEO of Newton Medical Center, a private nonprofit hospital in the seat of Harvey County.

Staying connected

Kelly said staying relevant to Newton and Harvey County residents is accomplished through a constant assessment of their needs. That is accomplished in part through the frequent use of focus groups, he said, and by the 103-bed hospital’s volunteer board of directors, which comprises citizens as well as business leaders and physicians.

The continual assessment has led to the development of an after-hours clinic. It also prompted the development a few years ago of a heart catheterization lab, he said.

A focus on serving the community in a rational, responsible way has helped guide Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital, a 74-bed hospital in El Dorado, in its growth over the years, said president and CEO Gayle Arnett.

“We definitely have to assess what the demand is going to be in our market,” she said. “It’s very important to staying financially successful. You have to plan well to stay strong.”

Arnett said that patients prefer to stay at a hospital in the community in which they live. So it’s up to hospitals to respond to the community’s needs. And if Susan B. Allen is going to provide a new service, “we do it well if we are going to do it,” she said.

Some of the specialized services Susan B. Allen offers are a cancer center, spine surgeries and dialysis. It also recently received accreditation as a Chest Pain Center from the Society of Chest Pain Centers.

Wichita’s larger hospitals and their services and technology are not Susan B. Allen’s first consideration when evaluating a new service or piece of equipment.

“It’s not something that we dwell on,” she said. “It is a fact of life that we are close to Wichita.”


Small hospital CEOs also said that a true partnership with physicians must exist for their hospitals to remain relevant to their communities and stay competitive.

Kelly said that Newton Medical’s 18-member board of trustees includes four physicians from its medical staff. And when the board has its annual retreat, it invites the doctors who treat and refer patients to Newton Medical to participate in strategic planning sessions at the retreats.

Partnering with doctors is “huge,” Kelly said. “If you can’t get that right, your hospital is in trouble.”

Steve Perkins, CEO of South Central Kansas Medical Center in Arkansas City, said the decision to add services at his hospital not only includes the community need but the realization that it is limited by the specialties of the physicians who make up its medical staff.

His 26-bed hospital can’t go out and add a heart cath lab without first having a cardiologist who is trained to do them. And then it has to be determined whether there will be enough procedures to make the service financially feasible.

“Potentially, that’s one of those things that builds through time,” he said. “And you’ve got to have good volume to do it in a quality manner.”

And that’s where Wichita’s large hospitals figure into the equation, Perkins said, noting that from Arkansas City you “can be at any of the three Wichita hospitals in 60 minutes, and that’s without breaking the speed limits.”

“We’re constantly battling the fact we have this close proximity to Wichita.” he said.

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