Nearly 70 years ago, a handful of osteopathic doctors—determined to meet the needs of the community—treated patients in a provisional 12-bed hospital. With dedication and enthusiasm for osteopathic medicine, the doctors laid the groundwork for what would decades later become the Riverside Health Foundation.

The founding doctors wanted to be able to serve more than the small number of patients they could personally care for, and decided the best way to do this was by training more osteopathic physicians like them. In need of funding and accreditation, they forged a partnership with Kirksville College and continued their mission.

As a local osteopathic physician and hospital administrator at Riverside Hospital in Wichita, founder Robert Dixson used his position at the hospital to create a partnership and provide a place for these osteopathic students to train and practice. One of the founding agreements of this partnership, however, relied on the fact that should the local hospital ever disband or be sold, the profits would be used to train osteopathic students in Wichita.

“Three or four osteopathic physicians started this whole ball rolling in the 1950s, and Robert Dixson grew it into an education that adds physicians to Wichita. It’s always been the most important to send doctors to the most underserved, rural areas in Kansas,” says Ronny Troy, founding Riverside Health Foundation board member.

Riverside Health Foundation forms

When the decision was made to sell the physical properties that Riverside Health System owned, the proceeds went into forming the Riverside Health Foundation. Even without a hospital or a medical school, the profits were housed within the foundation and the mission continued: Train osteopathic physicians and improve the health and welfare of the state of Kansas. Echoing back to the original promise that was made to use any funds made with the sale of the hospital, 85 percent of these funds were promised to train osteopathic doctors.

Throughout the years, the foundation has sponsored osteopathic students in international service trips, provided scholarships, and financial support, as well as working at the local Guadalupe health clinic in Wichita that serves those in need, regardless of ability to pay.

Though the foundation’s efforts have evolved throughout the years, the mission of those doctors has never strayed from the foundation’s focus: To improve the health and welfare in the state of Kansas.

Osteopathic medicine fills a need

Even without a hospital or a medical school, finding a way to sustainably serve the mission of the foundation has always been the ultimate goal. With the physician shortage hitting rural areas hardest, the need for practitioners was clear and an opportunity arose.

Because rural family medicine is a natural extension of osteopathic medicine, and 45 percent of doctors of osteopathic medicine become primary care physicians, in 2017, supported by the Riverside Health Foundation, Governor Sam Brownback appointed a task force to study the feasibility of establishing a new Osteopathic Medical School in Kansas. After finding that as of 2015, 86 percent of osteopathic physicians practice in one of the 27 states that have an osteopathic medicine school, the task force’s recommendation was in favor of establishing this school.

The Riverside Health Foundation had laid the groundwork throughout the years, so Wichita was a natural fit for the new school. In the center of the state, Wichita is prepped to serve rural Kansas to the east and the west. “With a college of osteopathic medicine, the opportunities for Riverside to give back to the community and the state multiply exponentially, and that is ultimately what we all want,” Chairman of the Board Randy Coonrod says.

Making good on the long ago promise of the founders, in early 2019, the Riverside Health Foundation voted unanimously to partner with Kansas Health Science Center (KHSC) to work toward building the new proposed Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (KansasCOM, applicant status—seeking accreditation) in Wichita. Troy echoes the excitement for the college, “The journey from hospital to foundation, to the newly developed Kansas Health Science Center represents a commitment that’s persisted for nearly 70 years.”

Always looking to serve the community with osteopathy, the foundation has found a fitting way to leave a legacy by training doctors to serve Wichita and all of Kansas.

“Many things have changed in the ways that we’ve helped people, but one of the things we’ve always done is serve those that need it most,” Coonrod says. “And now we know that we can use the nest egg set aside years ago to make a significant impact for years to come with this new school.”