Three years after the project was announced and two years after its groundbreaking, Wichita's newest hospital is ready for visitors. Via Christi Hospital on St. Teresa, at 21st Street and 151st Street West, will open its doors for public tours next weekend, though it's not quite ready for patients yet. Inspections by accrediting and state agencies will push that into next month.
It's the first new hospital in the metro area since the 2006 opening of the Kansas Medical Center in Andover, and it's the first major hospital expansion into a fast-growing part of the metropolitan area.
The hospital's opening can be expected to hasten other health care growth, both adjacent to the hospital and along the North Ridge Road medical corridor.
The St. Teresa hospital, not quite a mile west of the Northwest YMCA and just outside the city limits, is a 68-bed community hospital.
It won't offer the specialty services available at large medical centers such as the other Via Christi hospitals in Wichita or Wesley Medical Center.
It will have a round-the-clock emergency room, six operating rooms and four labor-and-delivery suites.
Building a hospital from scratch provided both opportunities and challenges, said Kevin Strecker, CEO of St. Teresa.
The design process included talk of "adjacencies" —locating services so they'd be convenient both for staff members and for patients. That resulted in CT and MRI imaging rooms steps from the emergency room and from outpatient entrances, for example.
The biggest challenge was in the hospital's location: It's in an area that is medically underserved, but it's miles from where most of Wichita's physicians practice.
"When we went into this, we knew it was going to present a challenge to the physician community," Strecker said.
There's no way, for example, that an obstetrician could manage a patient in labor there while also tending to laboring patients elsewhere.
Via Christi addressed the problem by having a "closed" medical staff for its obstetrics-gynecology, emergency room, pathology, radiology and anesthesiology departments. Those specialties will be staffed only by physicians who are employees of the hospital.
Other physicians — primary care doctors, surgeons and others — can apply to practice at the hospital. Hospitalists, who specialize in caring for hospitalized patients, will care for those who don't have another doctor or whose doctor doesn't have practice privileges at the hospital.
Strecker said St. Teresa expects to get patients from all over the Wichita area but may appeal most to those who live near the hospital, especially those in small communities who don't like the idea of going to a "big city" hospital in Wichita.
There hasn't been a Sedgwick County hospital west of downtown since Via Christi converted its Riverside Medical Center from a full-service hospital in 2004.
Dan Unruh of InSite Real Estate Group said the hospital opening will be a catalyst for health care expansion in far west Wichita.
"We are seeing a continued expansion of medical practices to serve both east and west markets in our metro area," said Unruh, who has been involved in several west Wichita projects, including Wichita Clinic's Eberly Farm site and Mid-Kansas Women's Center's North Ridge Road site.
"Our recent activity has been more focused on east-side specialists seeking west-side expansion," he said. "I think that's driven in large part by a growth in overall housing on the west side, a growth in overall income on the west side."
The hospital occupies only a fraction of the 120-acre site, which is platted to allow uses that could include a hotel, a church, senior living, retail and other medical facilities, Strecker said.
Unruh said he expects more medical development there — but also along North Ridge Road, an area Via Christi once considered for a hospital site. Other medical facilities have sprung up there, attracted by its proximity to K-96.
"I don't see a reason why the Ridge corridor will be diminished because of the establishment of a new west Wichita hospital," Unruh said. "I believe the Ridge corridor remains very viable, very strong and very appealing."
One provider who isn't looking at either location: Wesley Medical Center, which has its Wesley West Emergency and Diagnostic Center at 13th and Tyler.
Steven Edgar, chief operating officer at Wesley, said, "We continue to believe that from an inpatient opportunity, or an inpatient need, there certainly are sufficient beds" in Wichita.
"Continuing to invest in one location makes the most sense" in terms of efficiency and convenience for patients and physicians, he said.
"Having said that, we do believe there's an opportunity to bring services off campus" for outpatient purposes, Edgar said.
Wesley still owns land around Wesley Rehabilitation Hospital, just east of the Wesley West center, but Edgar said there are no plans for development there in the immediate future.
Unruh said additional health care development on the west side won't happen immediately. How quickly it will occur "is a multifaceted function of credit availability, growth in housing and digestion of 'Obamacare.' Once it becomes clear what Obamacare means to the market, it will give a great deal more direction to the development of medical facilities."
Strecker said Via Christi has "a high-level, five-year plan" for its campus and expects some — but not all — of it to develop in that time frame.
Though the hospital is surrounded by cornfields now, he pointed out that most have "for sale" signs in them, an indication that current owners see the potential.