Wichita a hub for health care in Kansas

Every year, patients come from across Kansas for health care services in Wichita.

Some even come from out of state, including Oklahoma or western Missouri, according to leaders in health care.

“Healthy communities don’t happen by accident,” said Penny Vogelsang, interim director of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County, in an e-mail interview. “Health care plays a significant and vital role in Wichita and the surrounding areas.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 26,040 people were employed as health care practitioners or in health care technical or support occupations in Wichita in May 2015.

The impact is even more significant, Vogelsang said, since having doctors and nurses results in a need for medical suppliers, manufacturers and related industries.

If related industries such as medicine manufacturing and medical insurance sales are included, the number rises to 75,618 employees, according to a study prepared for and released by the Medical Society of Sedgwick County. The study also said health care and related industries generated $253 million in tax revenue for the city, county and state in 2014.

Wichita’s location is key since Kansas is a largely rural state, said Bill Voloch, president and CEO of Wesley Medical Center.

“Having a large health care hub here is important, because you want to be as close to the people as you possibly can,” Voloch said in a phone interview. “The last thing you want is for us to not focus on health care and for them to have to go another two hours, because in many cases that could be a difference between life and death.”

Mike Mullins, CEO of Via Christi Health, said the industry in Wichita requires a large health care footprint.

“If you don’t have a hub of health care, then how is Wichita going to grow?” Mullins said. “How is there ever going to be any expansion or any retention of area employers if they don’t know their employees can be taken care of?”

In addition to its major hospitals, Wichita also offers training at area colleges and universities.

In 2011, the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita expanded to offer a four-year curriculum. It now has sent graduates to 72 of Kansas’ 105 counties. More than half of Sedgwick County’s doctors are graduates of the KU Medical School or its residency programs, according to the university’s website.

“New and innovating health care industries will attract and retain young talent in the community, tethering them here with exciting prospects of expanding resources and opportunities,” Vogelsang said.

Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @KathsBurgess