December 11, 2014; Topeka Capital-Journal

The long-standing national trend of government outsourcing primary services to private operators, both nonprofit and for-profit, marches on.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Shawnee County, home to the city of Topeka, will outsource the county’s primary care services to a nonprofit health center. The County Commission last week asked the Wichita-based GraceMed Clinic to take over operations of Shawnee County’s community health center. It has been considering outsourcing its clinical services to a private nonprofit since the spring of this year.

The Capital-Journal reports that GraceMed describes itself as “a Christ-centered, nonprofit community health center providing access to quality health care for all residents of Wichita, Sedgwick County and south central Kansas” on its website. Apparently, the faith-based nature of the organization is not an issue for County officials.

GraceMed operates public, federally-qualified health centers out of schools, treating more than 30,000 patients in 2013. Shawnee County wants to serve 25,000 patients—a bit less than half the county’s low-income population. The county’s health director believes they can reach that goal with the assistance of the nonprofit.

The county is still in the exploration phase of the effort and is preparing “to have GraceMed sit with us, Marian Clinic and hospitals and work through those questions.” Shawnee County has been investigating changing its community health clinics, which deliver primary healthcare services, from a public entity model to a private one, leaving broader, population-based health initiatives under the purview of the county.

According to the article, data show that the cost per patient at the county health agency is about $800, more than double the average cost in Kansas and higher than the national benchmark of $425. Studies also show that nearly 50,000 low-income residents are underserved; to meet those needs, the County health center would need more exam rooms, additional providers and increased hours of operations. It is not clear whether the county will continue to subsidize the health center after it is privatized.—Larry Kaplan