Healthcare and Community Services


New Center of Gravity | Anchoring health-care delivery in the middle of the Kansas City area is the University of Kansas Health System, which recently completed a significant addition with the first phase of its Cambridge Tower project.

The most recent hospital-admissions statistics in the Kansas City region showed that the 25 largest institutions admitted more than 300,000 people in 2016. About one in eight were checked in to the University of Kansas Hospital, the region’s biggest acute-care facility.

There was a reason for that: According to Becker’s Hospital Review the University of Kansas Health System operated one of the “100 Great Hospitals in America” in 2017. As a leading publication for health-sector developments, Becker’s produces the list of institutions renowned for excellence, and UKH was one of only two in the two-state region to make that honor roll (the other being Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis).

It was the culmination of nearly 20 years’ worth of work to bring that institution out of state control, where it was on the precipice of financial failure in 1998, and set new standards for health care in this region as an independent public hospital authority. The results are clearly visible as you cross State Line on 39th Street and see the new construction that has transformed the hospital campus in recent years.

All of that is impressive stuff in its own right. But testimony to the strength of the health-care marketplace in this metro area is the number of consumers, voting with their wallets and with their own well-being on the line, being admitted to medical centers and hospitals large and small.

Health-policy executives have long acknowledged that Kansas City, with more than, 5,000 beds available, the region may have more admissions capacity than necessary to serve a metro-area population of just under 3 million. But the metro area alone isn’t populating those beds: The hospitals in this area are pulling in patients from well beyond the two-state, four-state and even Midwest regions. Some, in fact, have developed practice specialities that have earned them a spot on the national stage.

Among the more than 50 hospitals in a 22-county area that rings Kansas City’s core, you’ll find major research-based institutions and small community hospitals. They are locked in a fiercely competitive marketplace, a dynamic that translates into greater consumer choice and, across the board, a greater focus on superior care. This, after all, is a competition in which no one wants to finish as runner-up.

One interesting aspect of today’s health-care market is that, of the 25 largest hospitals operating here as recently as 15 years ago, only one—the former Baptist Lutheran Medical Center—was no longer operating under that name by early 2017. That says something about the stability of local players in a sector that has undergone sweeping change in the intervening years. The most recent large change in players at the table came last year, when the KU Health System entered into a joint venture with for-profit Ardent Health Services to buy the one hospital known to be financially struggling, St. Francis Health Center in Topeka.

That deal made St. Francis a satellite campus of KU Health, which has extended its mission to serve the entire state of Kansas by spreading its physical wings. Just a year before, it absorbed the former Hays Medical Center into its operations.

Elsewhere in this market, two large hospital systems have account for more than 40 percent of regional admissions: HCA Midwest Health, and the Saint Luke’s Health System. HCA Midwest, with a dozen hospitals in the region, is a subsidiary of the for-profit national chain HCA, while Saint Luke’s is a non-profit organization comprising 14 locations, from community hospital and hospice settings all the way up to the mother ship, the sprawling Saint Luke’s Hospital campus near the Country Club Plaza.

The larger hospitals have benefitted from a growing life-sciences research ecosystem that took root 20 years ago with the founding of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. It not only put Kansas City on the national research map, but it inspired similar efforts by, and collaborations with and between, other large area medical centers.

A number of those have aligned to form the Midwest Cancer Alliance, comprising 19 hospitals and research facilities to address the nation’s No. 2 killer, behind heart disease.

Among those is Children’s Mercy Kansas City, which has boosted both its physical presence in the region by opening satellite facilities in Missouri and Kansas, and by ramping up its own research efforts, particularly in the field of pediatric pharmacology. Sitting directly across the street from Truman Medical Center’s Hospital Hill campus, it forms a health-care tandem that gives Downtown Kansas City and the urban core access to both pediatric medicine and specialists in acute trauma.

The wealth of medical assets doesn’t stop there. Among the biggest medical centers in terms of patient admissions are North Kansas City Hospital, one of the region’s five biggest, thanks in large part to the suburban growth in the Northland.

At the commanding heights of health-care on the Kansas side in Johnson County, the region’s wealthiest, are Shawnee Mission Health and Olathe Health, both of which have engaged in major expansion efforts over the past decade, and draw from a considerably larger geographic area than their home county. And further north, Mosaic Life Care anchors the region’s St. Joseph flank, serving as a draw for patients into Nebraska and Iowa, as well as Kansas City’s northern suburbs. 

Suburban Growth | Olathe Health’s $100 million campus expansion has dramatically increased the system’s ability to delivery care to residents of central and southern Johnson County and beyond.