Wichita's Health-Care Community Boosts Economic Development

While Wichita is best known as the Air Capital of the World‚ another segment of the economy is growing healthier by the day.

Michaela Jackson
On Sunday, September 11, 2011 - 17:59

While Wichita is best known as the Air Capital of the World‚ another segment of the economy is growing healthier by the day.

The region’s medical community is second only to the aviation industry in terms of employment figures‚ providing jobs for some 37‚000 professionals.

With such a thriving health-care environment‚ residents here are ensured access to many services and technology that are not available elsewhere in the state.

The city is home to Kansas’ only heart‚ kidney and bone marrow transplant program at Via Christi Regional Medical Center‚ which also is known for its stroke‚ cancer and burn centers.

Wesley Medical Center has made its name as a leader in pediatric care‚ with two pediatric intensivists‚ a pediatric sedation team and an emergency pediatrics specialist. In addition to these special features‚ both hospitals offer comprehensive‚ high-quality health-care services to patients. Other major players include Wichita Clinic‚ the largest multispecialty clinic in the state; the Robert J. Dole Department of Veterans Affairs Medical and Regional Office Center; and the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita. Altogether‚ the city has 17 acute care and specialty hospitals licensed for about 3‚100 beds‚ more than 50 nursing homes and assisted living facilities‚ and a host of specialty clinics and physicians’ offices.

Connecting these entities is the Medical Society of Sedgwick County‚ which was founded in 1903 and is 1‚200 members strong today. The society offers a num­ber of important services to its member physicians but perhaps is best known for Project Access‚ says Jon Rosell‚ the society’s executive director.

“We currently have more than 500 physicians who volunteer a portion of their time to care for underinsured or uninsured individuals in the community‚” Rosell says.

With hospitals also contributing to the effort‚ the program has delivered nearly $59 million worth of health care to more than 7‚000 people. The society serves another 200 people who are eligible for Medicaid through its Medicaid Health Connect program.

A 2004 study showed that‚ in 2000‚ health care in Wichita created 48‚205 jobs in Sedgwick County‚ paying more than $1 billion. Adding in the “ripple effect” of this money re-circulating in the community‚ health care had a total economic impact that year of more than $1.5 billion. Via Christi Wichita Health Network alone now employs more than 4‚700 people who are earning an average wage of more than $25 per hour‚ according to Laurie Labarca‚ executive vice president and chief operating officer. That translates to $244.4 million per year‚ plus generous benefits. And none of these numbers include dollars spent by people coming to Wichita for care‚ Labarca says.

“One-third of the patients seen at Wichita Clinic come from outside Sedgwick County‚” says Kimberly T. Shank‚ executive director for Wichita Clinic. “When these people visit our clinics‚ they have the opportunity to access the other services and amenities offered by our community‚ including shopping‚ dining‚ entertainment‚ recreation and so forth.”

Labarca says Wichita is a “great place to live‚ work and raise a family.” That quality of life helps them recruit and keep top-notch physicians‚ which in turn makes the community even more attractive to others.

“Wichita is becoming more attractive for people to relocate‚ and health care is a major reason‚” says Hugh Tappan‚ president and CEO of Wesley Medical Center. “I’m proud to say we’ve got truly great health care here.”


Michaela Jackson has worked as a reporter for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as a freelance writer for a variety of regional and national magazines.