ITTSBURG, Kan. — The Pittsburg City Commission this week approved a grant of up to $600,000 — 10 percent of an estimated $6 million total cost — to be paid upon completion of a project to expand Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas’ facilities to accommodate its new family practice residency program.

In making his case to commission, Jason Wesco, executive vice president of CHCSEK, said the organization’s goal is to provide access to healthcare, but that goal goes beyond just being a health clinic.

“For instance we want to improve the health of the communities that we serve, and those are very different things, the delivery of healthcare and improving health are different things,” he said. “We’ve also been committed to creating jobs and a pathway for our kids.”

CHCSEK provides training and educational opportunities to medical, dental, pharmacy, and behavioral health students, Wesco said.

“At any one time we have about 100 students engaged with our providers across our clinics,” he said, “because it is our belief that if we give our kids a pathway to healthcare that they may choose to stay in Southeast Kansas.”

Wesco noted that CHCSEK has been awarded a $750,000 federal grant to create a family practice residency program in collaboration with the University of Kansas. That means that medical students will be able to not only do part of their training locally, but can actually complete it and finish their education as medical doctors through CHCSEK.

“This is a really big deal because it never happens in a community of 20,000 people,” Wesco said. “It happens in Kansas in one other place that’s a small town, that’s Salina, which is three times the size of Pittsburg.”

Wesco showed a map and artist’s renderings of the new facilities it plans to build to house its residency program, which will be constructed on land recently donated by Crawford County located directly west of CHCSEK’s existing main clinic on Michigan Street.

“The idea is to create a hub for both students and our health professionals to interact, so it’s not only about educating students, but it’s also about them interacting with our health professionals and maybe making some personal relationships, and hopefully wanting to stay in Southeast Kansas.”

CHCSEK has also acquired a clinic near Ascension Via Christi hospital which it will be renovating and will also be used for training medical students.

“We’ve raised $1.75 million to date,” Wesco said. “We’ve kind of been waiting for this discussion so that when we talk with others, foundations and other donors, that we can say ‘The city’s onboard, the county’s onboard, we have a lead gift, won’t you help us?’”

One of the most important things to point out about CHCSEK’s residency program plans is “that with this facility and this program that Community Health Center is creating, it is entirely possible in the very near future that a local kid, a Pittsburg kid, could become a doctor without ever leaving Pittsburg, Kansas,” said Pittsburg Director of Economic Development Blake Benson. “That’s exciting. When we talk about growing our community and attracting professionals, that’s what we’re talking about.”