Wichita charity clinic executive recommended for a seat on a possibly dying state board

GraceMed CEO Dave Sanford with Health and Human Services Secretary and former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius

TOPEKA — Congratulations on becoming an officer, welcome to the Titanic.

That could be the situation that Dave Sanford, chief executive officer of the GraceMed Clinic in Wichita, is facing with state government.

At a confirmation hearing Wednesday, the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee unanimously and enthusiastically recommended Sanford for a position on the board of the Kansas Health Policy Authority.

Just one problem. The authority is one of eight state agencies that Gov. Sam Brownback is targeting to eliminate in his budget proposal.

If the governor gets his way, the authority will shut down less than six months from now and its functions of overseeing publicly funded health care programs will transfer to the Department of Health and Environment.

“We have been told, through the public anyway and the governor’s State of the State (speech), that the Kansas Health Policy Authority as we now know it is not forecast to continue in that role,” said Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, who chaired the meeting. “Do you know anything about that?”

“I don’t know much more than what I’ve read in the paper,” Sanford replied.

But he told the committee that however the organizational matters shake out, he hopes to be part of reforming the state’s growing Medicaid system to continue to provide quality care while taking steps to reduce costs.

One way might be to get the poor into health-maintenance plans or at least make sure they have a “medical home” with a physician, to cut down on expensive emergency room treatment, he said.

“I’m hoping there will be some accommodation, if in fact KHPA goes away, to those board members and staff who have worked so diligently these last six years,” Sanford said.

Sanford has headed GraceMed, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, since 2004. In that time, the clinic has grown into a $7 million-a-year operation providing health and dental services to 19,000 patients.

“They do an outstanding job and he does an outstanding job managing the whole operation,” said Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard. “I’m very excited about this particular appointment, because I do believe that the KHPA board — assuming that the organization continues to exist — that he would make a very positive contribution.”