$75 Million Hospital to Be Built Near Wichita

Sep. 7--Plans include an ER, birthing rooms

The Via Christi Wichita Health Network will build a $75 million, 72-bed community hospital in west Wichita, the first major hospital expansion into one of the fastest-growing areas of Sedgwick County.

Via Christi closed Aug. 29 on 120 acres at 21st Street and 151st Street West and plans to build a 149,000-square-foot hospital with an adjacent medical office building, officials announced Thursday.

"It's the natural evolution to have an acute-care hospital on the west side," said Larry Schumacher, president and chief executive of the health network. "It's time for the west side to have its own facilities."

Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring and take 18 to 24 months, planners said.

Planning for the full-service hospital -- which will include an emergency department and birthing rooms -- began more than four years ago. It became a reality in 2006 when Via Christi's board of trustees granted approval to buy land.

West-side growth

The site, about a half-mile west of the Northwest YMCA, was chosen for its proximity to the proposed northwest bypass and is a reflection of the substantial growth rate in west Wichita, said Allan Allford, chief executive of Via Christi Health Partners and senior vice president for business development for the health network.

"We looked at the ZIP codes west of I-235 and what we saw is that the projected growth rate is one of the highest in Sedgwick and Butler counties," he said. "We were looking for a location that would endure for years, and we think we have an excellent site."

The area has a projected growth rate of 7.4 percent through 2010 -- the highest in the region -- which will result in more than 141,000 residents in 52,000 households, Allford said. That's an increase of about 10,000 people from 2005 data.

Weighing funding

Allford said Via Christi is weighing whether to fund the hospital in a physician equity partnership or build it as a wholly owned Via Christi facility.

The health network will launch a medical office feasibility study in the next few weeks to determine physicians' interest in leasing or owning office space there.

Last fall, Via Christi hired the Hammes Co. --a national health care facility developer and consultant -- to help form a master facilities plan.

"Part of our strategic planning... is understanding the dynamics of patients and physicians in that market to ultimately create partnerships," said Hammes regional vice president Travis Messina. "Sometimes that's financial, sometimes that's just in terms of relationships."

It's a good time for expansion in west Wichita, which has only recently attracted more retail stores and restaurants, said Stan Longhofer, director of the Center for Real Estate at Wichita State University.

"When you make a large investment like that, you really have to have a long-term vision of where the customers will be and what you need to do to serve them," he said. "Clearly that northwest part of town is seeing tremendous growth in households. If you don't (build) it, somebody else will."

Other west-side projects

Health care providers have been eyeing the west side for a while now.

Physician Gregory Lakin, whose New Medical Health Care offices are near Via Christi's proposed hospital site, and a group of investors have already announced plans to build a $37 million physician-owned hospital on Maize Road between Kellogg and Maple.

That project also will include a skilled nursing center -- currently under construction -- and a medical office building to complement the 30- or 40-bed hospital, Lakin said. Construction for the hospital could begin as early as December.

"We're going full steam ahead on this anyway," Lakin said. "We know where our patient base is; we already have it. The money's there, the interest is there, and the support is there. It's going to happen."

Wesley Medical Center staked its presence on the west side when it opened the $14.5 million Wesley West Emergency & Diagnostic Center last November at 13th and Tyler Road. That facility also offers medical office space.

Focus on service

Via Christi officials, who once considered building a specialized surgical hospital out west, said the new full-service hospital will stand out by offering high-quality, patient-centered services that are convenient and comfortable.

Patient rooms will be private amid a rich customer service environment, Schumacher, Via Christi's president, said.

"This is a hospital for the future," he said. "It will be very different from what is currently available in this market."

Howard & Helmer Architecture in Wichita and Leo A. Daly of Omaha were hired as the architectural team. A general contractor has not yet been finalized, Via Christi officials said.

Lead architect David Riffel of Howard & Helmer said the challenge is merging the complexities of an acute-care hospital with the demand for customer service.

"It's like a city within a city," Riffel said. "We have to merge the concepts of hospitality with all the infrastructure and communication of a complex health care facility."

Reach Andi Atwater at 316-268-6642 or aatwater@wichitaeagle.com [mailto:aatwater@wichitaeagle.com]

Copyright (c) 2007, The Wichita Eagle, Kan. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.