By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
A $17-million bond issue to address upgrades at Southwest Medical Center will be put to vote on March 2.
While it is not part of the proposal, an additional identified need for the hospital is for more medical office space on the campus in order to be able to attract, recruit and retain doctors to the community.
SWMC President and CEO Norm Lambert said a primary requisite to be able to do that is modern, functional space in which doctors can develop a practice.
“We really need to look at the office building as a recruitment tool for us,” he said. “It’s part of what is going to give us that competitive edge to bring somebody in.”
Lambert said doctors prefer a facility with easy access to the diagnostic X-ray, lab, surgery and other services of the hospital.
“It’s all connected,” he said. “That convenience for patients is extremely important. It’s convenient for physicians.”
Lambert said the proposed medical office building will hold 10 to 12 doctors. That number will depend on the specialty of the doctor and how much space they take.
“That’s a good number,” he said. “We’ll make that available to the existing physicians here in town if they would like to move in there. It’s not just for new doctors.”
Lambert said the improved convenience of hospital outpatient service areas and the construction of a medical office building will enable “one-stop shopping” that will be much more convenient. This is especially important for senior citizens and their relatives, friends and others who provide support for them.
“That convenience is just extremely important for peace of mind, for getting the proper care for the patient, for a lot of reasons,” he said. “From the patient’s standpoint, it really makes a point.”
Lambert said there are specific reasons why the bond issue does not include the medical office building.
“These are tax exempt bonds,” he said. “We cannot use general obligation bonds to fund a building that would have private enterprise in it, that does not have a tax exempt use.”
Lambert said having the medical office building attached to the hospital will be an advantage for SWMC.
“You come in, and you find one place to park,” he said. “You go into the building to see the doctor. You don’t have to leave the building to come over to the hospital for lab or X-ray or anything else that may need to be done.”
Lambert said there is not a plan B for if the bond issue fails, but with two years of planning already done, hospital officials emphasize the importance of the medical office building.
“If for some strange reason it does not pass, we still have to do something to provide space for doctors,” he said. “I don’t know what that is right now.”
Lambert said he believes rural health care can provide a higher quality of service.
“We’re not the big city,” he said. “We don’t have the mall or the Starbucks, but we do have a quality of life that I think can be very positive over the big city.”
Lambert said the medical office building will be paid for through hospital reserves.
“We’re excited about it,” he said. “We will look and act and be able to behave like a real medical center then.”
Lambert said when looking at the economic impact of a medical office building, one new doctor could bring as much as $1 million of business to SWMC.
“Then they employ people in their office,” he said. “If they employed an average of four or five people, they have salaries. The impact is better employment in the community and once we have the number of doctors in a community like Liberal, the other towns around here start to look to us. More patients come to us to have their health care here. There’s more business and dollars coming to town.”
And the impact does not stop there, according to Lambert.
“The least they do is they stop at McDonald’s and get food or they buy gasoline here,” he said. “There’s other economic impact.”
Lambert said it is important to understand that as additional physicians are recruited to Liberal and the total number of doctors increase, the larger critical mass of doctors will attract patients from a broader geographical area. When this happens, additional money will flow into Liberal from outlying areas.
“Just this last year, 35 percent of our patients came from outside of Seward County,” he said. “As we pay for this with revenues from the hospital and no taxes to citizens in the community, 35 percent of it’s being paid for by somebody outside of our community.”
Lambert said the citizens of Seward County can take advantage of 100 percent of the benefit of all this and have 35 percent of it paid for by somebody outside the area.
“That’s quite an economic impact too, and that number could go up the more we’re able to draw more patients in,” he said.