By Travis Mounts
On Monday, a new chapter in health care opened in Harper County.
Patterson Health Center is now open in a gleaming new facility that sits between the county’s two main towns of Harper and Anthony. The new facility is the final step in the merger of the Hospital District No. 5, which operated Harper Hospital, and Hospital District No. 6, which ran Anthony Medical Center.
The combined entity – still known as Harper Hospital District No. 6 – continues to operate additional health clinics, including one in Conway Springs.
A ribbon cutting and open house was held last Friday and included a number of dignitaries, highlighted by U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who was the featured speaker. The senator sported a leg brace and a scooter, thanks to a hiking injury suffered recently in Arizona.
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“I have become a consumer of health care services in the last seven weeks,” Moran joked. He was injured on Camelback Mountain, where he fractured his ankle and tore three ligaments. “I thought the helicopter circling above me was there to rescue me. No, it was Phoenix 5 News.”
The senator noted the cooperation required between the rival communities of Anthony and Harper, along with other communities in the county, to make Patterson Health Center possible.
“What this means is Harper County has a bright future,” he said. “What I try to bring to Washington, D.C., is a belief in rural America.”
Moran said access to health care is critical for the future of rural Kansas.
See our photo gallery from the Patterson Health Center grand opening
“In the absence of health care, our ability to keep rural communities together deteriorates,” he said.
Patterson Health Center is a reality in large part because of the generosity of the late Neal Patterson and the Patterson Family Foundation. Neal Patterson co-founded and was CEO of Cerner Corp., a giant in the medical technology field. Patterson is a Harper County native who grew up near Anthony, along the Kansas-Oklahoma border.
His daughter, Lindsey Patterson Smith, spoke on behalf of the Patterson Family Foundation. She noted her father’s love for where he grew up. She also stressed the dangers to rural health care, noting that more than 100 rural hospitals have closed this decade.
Martha Hadsall is chairman of the hospital district board and has helped oversee the merger of the two hospital districts.
“Today, we celebrate the opening of an innovative health center. It’s not a replacement hospital,” she said. “We rejoice in the vision of Neal Patterson.”
Hadsall said the communities of Harper County had to move from competition to cooperation, and from tradition to innovation.
“We do not walk this journey alone,” she said, referring to the numerous partnerships that Patterson Health Center has or will be forging in the community.
The journey to the new health center started a few years back with a community health survey. According to a story by Kansas State University’s Ron Wilson, Patterson was aware that the hospitals back in his home county were struggling with future plans.
“He told us that if we were to do research on a merger that could create a new model of health care delivery, he would be our biggest benefactor,” Hadsall said.
Extensive research followed. Studies found that a new facility was the most financially sustainable option. The board committed to not increase property taxes for the new facility, and to not require a reduction in staff employment.
Following a successful petition drive, the two hospital districts merged and developed plans for a new joint facility. In 2017, the Patterson Family Foundation made a $35 million commitment to the new facility. The boards selected the new site on 60 acres next to the shared Chaparral High School and Middle School, approximately halfway between Harper and Anthony.
Construction took about 18 months.