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Colby adding space, physicians

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

COLBY -- With new facilities and new physicians, expansion is the order of the day at Citizens Medical Center in Colby.

The private, not-for-profit corporation is not on the public tax roll, yet continues to show a profit. And while some rural hospitals have reduced services, Citizens Medical Center is adding more.

"I definitely attribute the success we're seeing to good management," said Tama Unger, director of fund development and community relations. "We as a hospital organization, we can't rely on the taxpayers to say, 'Yeah, we'll give you another half-mill.' We have to make our operations work."

The hospital, which draws patients from a nine-county area in northwest Kansas, is adding 7,250 square feet to its existing physician clinic, Family Center for Health Care. The facility, located adjacent to the hospital campus, houses three family practice physicians and seven mid-level providers.

Two more doctors will join that staff in September. The hospital has recruited its first full-time general surgeon in more than a decade, Dr. Kelly Gabel. Part-time outreach services are provided by a physician based in Denver.

The addition will enable patients to receive emergency care in Colby. Most of the time, patients requiring emergency surgeries are sent to Hays or Denver, Unger said.

"I don't think people in larger towns understand what a burden it can be when your family member has had surgery. Those families have to take time off work to travel with a patient," she said. "Now we're able to offer these services within a 30-mile radius, so they're closer to home.

"And people just feel better when they're at home."

In addition to more comprehensive emergency care, Gabel will offer laparoscopic procedures that have not been available in Colby. Patients prefer the minimally invasive approach, which often offers a smaller incision and quicker recovery, said Shane Venham, a registered nurse in the hospital's surgical unit.

"People won't have to go out of town for big-name surgeries," Venham said. "They'll be done here."

Gabel's wife, Sarah, will join the staff as a family practice physician with an emphasis in obstetric care. Patients also are looking forward to the addition of a female doctor specializing in that area of medicine, Unger said.

Both physicians have ties to northwest Kansas. Kelly Gabel is a native of St. Francis, and Sarah Gabel is from Hays.

Citizens Medical Center provides obstetric care to many patients in the area and delivered 140 babies in 2012, she said. The hospital is working to upgrade its surgical and obstetric facilities in conjunction with the new doctors' arrival.

Construction of the clinic expansion is well under way, and it's hoped the building will be finished before the physicians arrive this fall. The addition, which will approximately double the clinic's size, features 14 exam rooms, a procedure room and additional office space.

A third new physician, Dr. John Dygert, began work in August, and the small clinic had been pressed for space, Unger said.

Patient volume also has been expanding. On an average day, approximately 100 patients are seen at the clinic, she said.

The hospital's foundation launched a capital campaign to raise money for the expansion. The goal was to raise $1.9 million, and $1.6 million has been collected so far.

"We've been extremely fortunate with the support we've received from the community," said Sue Evans, chairwoman of the Citizens Medical Foundation. "People really believe in the future of health care here and want to see good facilities and the latest, up-to-date technology. And we want to be able to attract providers, too, because we do have that kind of health care."