On October 27, 2017, a community health clinic that started out as the vision of one doctor wanting a place for the uninsured to get care will become the largest primary healthcare provider in Harvey County. 

At 12:01 that morning, Health Ministries Clinic will take over operations of the current Via Christi's Newton Clinic on the Newton Medical Center campus.

“We’d been in discussions with several entities interested in taking over the clinic’s ownership and operations and are pleased to have reached an agreement with Health Ministries Clinic,” said Kevin Strecker, senior administrator for Via Christi Clinic. 

Matt Schmidt, director of Health Ministries, confirmed with The Kansan that Health Ministries will be taking over operations. He was meeting with staff of both Via Christi and Health Ministries Clinics Thursday morning.

"This is a risk for us, we are stepping out there, and we did this for the community," Schmidt told The Kansan. 

Via Christi has been evaluating the future operations of the clinic for several months. Via Christi Immediate Care in Newton was closed May 5, though at that time the primary care clinic remained open.

"This is the single largest group of primary care providers in our community," Schmidt said. "The thought of that group being dismantled is huge. What that means on so many levels — the impact on patients, it starts there. What would it mean for our community to lose that number of providers? That would create instant access issues for everyone. You think of the economic impact of that." 

The Via Christi Clinic sees nearly 12,000 patients each year, adding up to about 35,000 patient visits in a year. The clinic operates with about 50 employees. Currently Health Ministries performs about 17,000 patient visits per year. 

"My sense of Health Ministries Clinic is we are an asset and tool for the community. One of the things we are constantly doing is asking what are the needs, and what the gaps. It doesn't often come in this large of scale, but this is a natural extension of that," Schmidt said. "... This is not something we would have taken on our own. From a business angle, this is not something we would have done. It truly is a leaning into, and going outside of our comfort zone, with the community interests mind. We know it is a risk. We believe we will be successful because we have great partners, the chief of which is Newton Medical Center."

Newton Medical Center has been a long-term partner with Health Ministries and was part of the discussion leading up the announcement Thursday. 

Currently there is an agreement to transfer all business assets to Health Ministries. The clinic is now negotiating with doctors and staff at the clinic to keep as many those providers at the clinic location as possible. 

"We do not anticipate significant staff reductions," Schmidt said. "We are hopeful that providers who are currently there will remain. ... If you have a doctor you are seeing at the clinic and have a relationship with them, we expect to continue that and to see the same level of service. ... Our goal is to do everything in our power to minimize the transition for patients. This also does not change our commitment to serve anyone in the community regardless of their ability to pay. This does not mean we are changing who we are."

According to a news release, Via Christi has been working to develop integrated models of care and the Via Christi Clinic in Newton is the only location that is not near or in the same community as a Via Christi Hospital, Strecker said.

“So we chose to pursue an option that will allow the community to continue to receive those services, but from an established local provider with an established relationship with Newton’s community hospital," Strecker said.

What is now Via Christi Clinic on the campus of Newton Medical Center was started as Bethel Clinic. It became Wichita Clinic Bethel before Via Christi took ownership.

Health Ministries Clinic was founded by local doctors in 1991 and is now a Federally-Qualified Health Center (FQHC) serving the Newton community and surrounding counties. Health Ministries currently operates locations at 215 S. Pine in Newton, in Halstead and at a smaller clinic called Primary Care Partners on the campus of Newton Medical Center.

Health Ministries offers medical services on a sliding fee scale for people without insurance and also accepts Medicare, Medicaid/KanCare and most health insurances.