City Hospital, which opened in 1870, is generally regarded as the first facility of its kind in Kansas City, although St. John Hospital in nearby Leavenworth
had opened six years before. Nearly 150 years later, the health-care seeds this region planted then have blossomed into a network of more than 50 hospitals in the Kansas City region, from major research-based institutions to small community hospitals.
It is, almost literally, an embarrassment of riches: Hospital administrators generally agree that the reg-ion has too many hospital beds, given today’s health-care economics. But for consumers, that translates into fierce competition and abundant of choice for hospital care. Those benefits extend into personal care, as well, considering that the private practice is a vanishing construct, and most physicians these days are employed by the hospitals where they keep hours.
But in addition to the hands-on health-care, Kansas City is 15 years into what can no longer be considered an experiment: It’s becoming a health-care research powerhouse, as well.
That started with the creation of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, founded by one of America’s most outstanding examples of personal and corporate philanthropy. The late Jim Stowers and his wife, Virginia, poured nearly all of their $2 billion family fortune into that venture, and the ongoing contributions from American Century Investments—the company he built from scratch—have made the institute a linchpin of life-sciences research in this region since its doors—and laboratories—opened in 2000.
Rising from the shell of the former Menorah Medical Center building just east of the Country Club Plaza, the institute has drawn world-class talent to conduct genetic research into the causes of cancer, diabetes and other illnesses. That demonstration of the power of medical research has helped bring a communitywide focus to elevating Kansas City’s stature in the life sciences.
Other organizations have made similar commitments to building up their research efforts. Among them are the University of Kansas Hospital and KU Medical Center, Saint Luke’s Hospital, Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, MRIGlobal, UMKC and Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. All are active players in a regional life-sciences economy that now numbers 2,000 scientists working with $550 million in annual research spending.
Those numbers also reflect a vibrant animal-health presence, something that sets this region apart from any other in the country: Companies in the corridor from Kansas State University in Manhattan to the University of Missouri in Columbia, two other members of the regional life-sciences consortium, account for nearly one-third of a $19 billion global market in the animal-health sector.
And in the precise center of all that is Kansas City. Opportunities in both human and animal health have positioned the region for long-term growth in those emerging fields, and many of those varied research efforts will dovetail with the broader mission of improved health-care delivery across a region with nearly 2.4
The closest major metropo area to Kansas City—St. Louis—is roughly 250 miles away. Secondary markets like Wichita or Des Moines are roughly 200 miles distant; Omaha is nearly the same. As a result of its gravitational pull, Kansas City draws patients from across a four-state area, and in some cases, beyond that.
This market position contributes to the sizable number of large hospitals and medical institutions here.
Everything from organ transplantation to cancer care is immediately available here, and the latter could be another growth area for the region: In 2012, the University of Kansas Cancer Center achieved its long-sought designation as a National Cancer Institute research center, a move that KU officials say will dramatically raise the region’s profile in cancer treatment. Currently, the center is raising funds and preparing for second-level recognition among research facilities nationwide.
The cancer center is just one piece of an impressive Midtown campus that includes hospital, which operates independent from KU as a public health authority, and School of Medicine, home to the allied-health functions of the Lawrence-based university.
Truman Medical Center, like KU, is a teaching hospital, working with the University of Missouri-Kansas City and its schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy and dentistry. Children’s Mercy, one of the nation’s finest pediatric hospitals, serves not just the Kansas City region, it is also a teaching hospital, drawing patients from across the nation and now engaged in key pediatric research initiatives.
Even though they sit on the fringe of the metropolitan area, sizable medical centers are located in St. Joseph, home to Mosaic Life Care and its comprehensive suite of health-care services, as well in Topeka, with Stormont-Vail Healthcare and St. Francis Health Center. All three rank among the region’s 25 largest, based on annual admissions.
Among the other leading hospitals and medical centers in the region:
• The four-location Saint Luke’s Health System, anchored by a major medical center on the Country Club Plaza, but with additional locations in the suburban settings of Overland Park, Lee’s Summit and the Northland.
• North Kansas City Hospital, serving the broad expanse of Kansas City north of the Missouri River with advanced programs in women’s health, cardiac care, orthopedics and oncology.
• Shawnee Mission Medical Center, which pioneered hospital care in northern Johnson County when it opened in Merriam in 1962.
• Olathe Medical Center, serving the central and southern Johnson County market since 1953, and now part of a health system operating from six locations in Johnson and Miami counties.
• And, of course, a market leader: HCA Midwest Health. It now accounts for roughly a quarter of the hospital beds in this region, and has eight full-service hospitals around Kansas City, plus a psychiatric hospital.
All are part of a health-care universe that features a combined 5,000 beds—well more than enough to serve the baseline needs of a metro area this large.