Swope Health, KU Medical School Partner to Expand Access to Health Care in Wyandotte County

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Public health officials on Wednesday celebrated a long-awaited expansion of a safety-net clinic here that will do double duty as a training ground for University of Kansas medical students.

The collaboration between the KU School of Medicine and Swope Health Wyandotte includes a roughly $600,000 makeover of the Swope clinic in the Bethany Medical Office Building.

“This has been a labor of love for all the strategic partners,” said Swope Health Services Chairman E. Frank Ellis.

Officials said they hope to handle more than 14,000 patient visits annually in the roughly 6,400-square-feet clinic, which is more than doubles the size of the previous space.

Before the expansion, the clinic handled about 7,200 visits annually, according to Irene Caudillo, director of operations for Swope Health Services’ satellite clinics.

In terms of numbers of visits, the expanded clinic is expected to boost safety-net capacity in the community by approximately 30 percent, said Joe Connor, public health director for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan.

New services in the enlarged space will include pediatrics and internal medicine. Assisting in the clinic will be 12 pediatric residents and 15 internal medicine residents from KU Med.

They will add manpower to a clinic that previously had two family practice physicians, one nurse practitioner and one dentist, Caudillo said.

The renovation, completed in mid-June, took about half a year to complete, said Naimish Patel, chief financial officer with Swope Health Services.

Area health foundations and hospitals contributed more than $1 million to the cause, which Patel said helped with the renovation. He said the funding also would help with operational costs for the first few years until the clinic can become self-sustaining.

“We are thrilled to be part of this community, to help build this community and to share in the growth and the challenges we can meet together,” said Dr. Stewart Babbott of the Internal Medicine Department at the medical center. He is vice chairman for community outreach and director of the Division of General and Geriatric Medicine.

The expansion also means that behavioral health services will be offered for the first time at the clinic. The provider is Wyandot Inc.

Having mental and physical health providers in the same space means better care for the patients, said Peter Zevenbergen, president and chief executive of Wyandot Inc.

Referring patients to other locations can make it difficult for people who don’t have transportation, he said.

“You’ve got to cut out some of the barriers,” he said.

Closer proximity among providers also allows for better coordination of care, Zevenbergen said.

For Connor, the ceremony brought to fruition a plan that he and other health leaders initiated three or four years ago through the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County.

With Connor as the chairman, the council decided that the expansion of services through Swope, a federally qualified health center, was the best way to meet the growing needs in the community.

Involving KU Med residents was also a major goal, Connor said.

He said one of the biggest proponents of the plan was Dr. Steven Stites, who now is acting executive vice chancellor of KU Med.

“He believed in it from the get-go,” Connor said.

Connor said his one frustration was that the new clinic does not prominently advertise KU’s participation.

The idea going in, he said, was to burnish the image of the clinic by incorporating KU’s trusted brand into the clinic’s name.

“You start flying that Jayhawk around,” Connor said, “it is going to look different.”

Dave Barber, interim chief executive officer of Swope Health Services, said he was unfamiliar with the details of the branding discussions between the two parties.

Stites would not comment directly on the naming issue.

He said KU Med was merely playing a supporting role in the endeavor and that Swope was taking the lead as the federally qualified health center.

“Swope is a great brand name in Kansas City,” Stites said.

As he left the opening ceremony, Stites asked building owner Jerry Lunn not to fill any vacant space without first talking with the clinic partners.

When Lunn mentioned an idea for a dialysis center in the building, Stites said he was interested.

“We want this to get bigger and bigger,” he said.

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