Western Arkansas' health care organizations, working to keep pace with the region's growth and its health care needs, are recruiting top talent and investing in infrastructure and technology to ensure families have access to high quality care, close to home.
“We’ve been very successful in the last five years in recruiting new physicians and advanced practitioners to our community and being able to retain them, which has increased access for our patients to health care,” says Cole Goodman, M.D., president and CEO, Mercy Clinic Fort Smith Communities.
“We have also been able to utilize and leverage virtual care within our hospitalist program and in our rural community hospitals and critical access hospitals in Paris and Booneville and Ozark, allowing patients to receive care close to home,” Goodman says. “They can be taken care of and get well without having to have the families travel the 40 or 80 miles to see them.”
As part of the Mercy Health system, which also includes Mercy Hospital Booneville, Mercy Hospital Paris and Mercy Hospital Ozark, Mercy Clinic Fort Smith has grown from eight locations to 50 clinics in Fort Smith, Van Buren, Waldron, Paris and Ozark.
“Our physician number has grown from 20 to almost 140 and from five advanced practitioners to 56. That's all new growth. We’ve brought both primary care physicians and specialists to our communities, and we’ve been able to augment a couple of the smaller communities where they were down to only one or two or maybe no providers and make it so that they have care there,” Goodman says.
Filling the Talent Pool
Sparks Health System, which includes Sparks Regional Medical Center in Fort Smith, Sparks Medical Center-Van Buren, Sparks Clinic, Sparks PremierCare and the Marvin Altman Fitness Center, employs more than 250 physicians. Sparks Health partnered with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to expand the family medical center that provides training for new physicians, nurses, pharmacists and physician assistants. The $10.5 million, 30,000-square-foot facility also treats more than 4,000 people each month.
Sparks has invested more than $7 million in recent renovations and operational improvements including a new orthopedic unit, fitness center remodel, IT upgrades, and surgical equipment, says Stacy Johnson, director of marketing and communications at Sparks Health System.
"We are dedicated to recruiting physicians to the area to fulfill the health care needs of the residents of Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma,” she says. “We are excited to welcome several more physicians this fall."
“In the last 40 years, we've produced about 5 to 7 percent more physicians each year, and the same is true of nurses, but we’ve had a population growth of about 65 to 70 percent, and if you do the math, it doesn't add up,” Goodman says.
“We recently rolled out our five-year growth plan and looked at what we perceive are our needs as far as capital expenditures for buildings and our need for physicians,” he says. “Our community is growing, and not only is it growing, but it’s aging, so we will continue to actively recruit primary care physicians, hospitalists and emergency room physicians, etc. as well as rheumatologists, endocrinologists and other specialists –– regardless of whether we think we have reached capacity.”
A Healthy Economy
In addition to enhancing the region’s quality of life, the health care sector also has a significant impact on Western Arkansas’ economy. In Fort Smith alone, employment in health related fields grew by more than 20 percent in the last decade.
“If somebody's looking to place a business, especially if they are from outside your area, one of the two things that they look at and very specifically are your school system, and in Fort Smith we've got outstanding schools, public and private, and your health care system, your medical care. We have outstanding people in medical care here as well,” Goodman says. “And those payroll roll over between three and seven times, making the economic impact to Fort Smith and Western Arkansas about $1 billion dollars.”