Health Care

March 31, 2013

Newton Medical Center a ‘phenomenal success story’

At Newton Medical Center, the goal is to become a leader in health care – not just when people are sick.

At Newton Medical Center, the goal is to become a leader in health care – not just when people are sick.

“Hospitals are very good at episodic health care, but where we’re really being challenged, especially community health hospitals, is to help create environments that change people’s habits for the better,” said Steven Kelly, the center’s president and CEO.

“I think stepping into a role in which we will be even more leaders on improving the health of the community not just caring for you when you’re sick.”

Last year, the center announced it would donate 12 acres of land for the Greater Wichita YMCA to build a new facility on its campus.

Now in the fundraising stage, YMCA officials said they do not have a date for starting work on the facility, said Megan Harper, the group’s interactive marketing director.

“The fact that the hospital had extra space and was willing to donate it to the YMCA was an indication that the hospital recognizes that we, as a society, have a lot of diabetes problems and excess obesity, and the best way to improve health is to get that under control, not sitting in a rocking chair,” said Ray Penner, president and CEO of First Bank of Newton and a member of the medical center’s board of directors for about 18 years.

Like many hospitals working to survive in an increasingly complex and competitive health care environment, Newton Medical Center has expanded in recent years, adding physicians and surgeons in specialty areas such as plastic surgery, ophthalmology, orthopedics and sports medicine.

Building clinics

The nonprofit center also is expanding in ways outside Newton. Earlier this month, it broke ground on a new clinic in Sedgwick.

Sedgwick has no other medical facilities, Kelly said, and the medical center hopes to open its clinic by August with a full-time physician, nurses and visiting specialists. It also is considering adding clinics in Halstead and Hillsboro, he said. The center already has some in Park City and Valley Center.

“To recruit physicians into small towns like that, it’s difficult at the least, almost impossible,” Kelly said, explaining that the clinics offer medical access to people who otherwise might have to travel longer distances to see a doctor.

“And with the shortage of primary care physicians, sometimes if those primary care physicians know they’re part of a bigger facility like ours, they know they’re not alone. If you go into small communities and you’re the only physician there, you really don’t have a life of your own. Anywhere you go, somebody’s there. And pretty soon, the doctor burns out.”

“By sitting down together and planning the care, we believe we can drive down costs and improve the care because we’re working with the ‘at risk’ all the way through the system,” Kelly said.

City’s growth

With more than 600 employees, Newton Medical Center is one of the larger employers in the city with a population of about 20,000 people, an increase of about 2,000 since 2000, according to census data.

The majority of the city’s growth to the south of the Highway 50 and I-135 interchange has been a result of Newton Medical Center’s location, Penner said.

“It’s been a phenomenal success story and spurred enormous growth in Newton surrounding the hospital,” he said.

“It’s incredible when you have an employee total of about 600 people and the amount of purchasing power that goes into the community and it has a substantial budget. It’s a tremendous economic driver for every part of our community.”

As a result, the city’s Main Street is slowly moving south, Penner said.

“Business breeds business,” said Mickey Fornaro-Dean, president of Harvey County Economic Development Council. “People want to be where they see opportunity, jobs and investments.”

Fornaro-Dean said that the medical center is also a draw for keeping younger people in the community and drawing new people in.

Newton City Manager Randy Riggs said the center is a large economic engine with “a whole lot of horse power.”

“It’s served as a good reminder that communities that invest in themselves can reap dividends from those investments. I think that’s important for communities to think about,” Riggs said.

Center’s history

According to a book on the center by Lana Myers, Newton Medical Center was formed after Axtell Christian Hospital and Bethel Deaconess merged in the late 1980s.

In 1994, the city issued $14 million in bonds to help build the current facility south of town.

Groundbreaking was held on Feb. 26, 1995, and they started accepting patients at the new facility in August 1996.

What started as a 100,000-square-foot facility has increased to more than 300,000 square feet, Kelly said.

Additions have included office buildings, a surgery center, medical and surgical rooms and expansions of the inpatient rehabilitation center, generations unit, cafeteria and meetings rooms, Kelly said.

“We have more than an 80-acre campus so that we don’t have to piecemeal about getting land to build on,” Kelly said. “That was wonderful foresight by the people who helped make this happen.”

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