Health care in Arkansas has been ever evolving with ongoing and soon to come developments in hospitals statewide. There is a lot to look forward to in the coming years as far as accessible and innovative patient care, especially with the current and recently completed projects at some of the largest medical institutions across the state, including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, The Alice L. Walton School of Medicine (a sister organization of the Whole Health Institute), CARTI, Mercy Health, Arkansas Surgical Hospital, NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital, ARORA and Arkansas Heart Hospital.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Things such as access to health care providers, education and expansion of services is steadily improving across the state. UAMS in Little Rock, Arkansas’ only comprehensive academic health center, recently announced its latest projects for expansion. Christina Clark, chief operating officer and vice chancellor for institutional support services, explained that in 2019, UAMS completed a master facilities plan that encompasses the hospital’s plan for continued development through the next 20 to 25 years.
UAMS is currently finishing up a $150 million energy project that is expected to be completed by December, according to Clark. The $50 million electrical power plant on the east side of campus, a project aiming to help UAMS become more sustainable and efficient, is actually being completed six months ahead of schedule.
“Our greatest asset is the energy: UAMS has become the lowest energy-rate academic medical center in the country, and has already reduced its carbon footprint by 33%,” Clark said. “UAMS is working to become as sustainable and energy-efficient as possible, and this is something that we strive to achieve at all of our campuses.”
Clark added that within its efforts to reach maximum efficiency and sustainability, UAMS has completed several improvements in order to function as smoothly as possible. “We took 18 generators out and replaced them with eight. All of our lighting has been changed to LED. We’ve worked on updating the mechanical and electrical systems on campus,” Clark said.
The UAMS Child Development Center plans to break ground in September of this year, and upon completion, will provide childcare “based on the development of the child.”
“The greatest benefit of the Child Development Center is for our employees: Moms and dads will be able to have their children close to campus and they’ll be able to visit their kids throughout the day,” Clark explained. “This model allows for children to be placed in a class based upon their development.”
Northwest Arkansas will soon welcome its first UAMS ambulatory and surgery center, with the schematic design phase of the Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Clinic currently underway. The $85 million project will bring more sports medicine care to the area. And, as Clark explains, the University of Arkansas Razorback athletic teams are officially cared for by UAMS physicians.
“Right now, UAMS currently has a mobile MRI to scan Razorback athletes, and the athletes are treated at our outpatient treatment center in Fayetteville,” Clark said.
The Orthopedic Spine Center is also in progress on the southwest side of the campus. “The Orthopedic Spine Center has been the grandchild of one of our physicians, Dr. Lowry Barnes, for several years,” Clark said. “This project will be a great benefit to patients as it will greatly grow the orthopedic department. It plans to add 12 operating rooms, additional beds, an orthopedic therapy and physical therapy area and more.”
Back in Little Rock, UAMS is also working on the 52,249 square-foot expansion of its Radiation Oncology Center, located within the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. With an expected completion date in 2023, the center will be home to the state’s only proton center, which will be in partnership with Baptist Health, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Proton International.
In joining with Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Children’s Tumor Foundation announced its collaborative plans of creating and piloting the first dedicated neurofibromatosis (NF) adult clinic in the region in 2021. In an earlier announcement, Natalie Rockefeller – UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute board member and Arkansas Advisory Board for the Children’s Tumor Foundation member – explained the impact of the NF adult clinic.
“Three-quarters of NF patients in Arkansas are adults without proper clinical attention,” she explained. “When I hear this, I think of Myleigh Marshall, a young girl I met when I competed in the Dancing with Our Stars gala fundraiser a few years ago. Myleigh will soon be a young woman, facing new and particular needs in her NF care, and it’s important that we make sure she has access to the care and guidance she and all other young adults and adults in Arkansas living with NF need,” Rockefeller said.
UAMS drew attention to the fact that most NF clinics in the country serve children, but adult NF care has long been a significant unmet health need in the United States.
Mercy Health, formerly known as Catholic Health Partners, has recently announced several initiatives that will lead to expansion in the state. Mercy will be investing $500 million in the second phase of its health care expansion which will include a cancer center, emergency department and isolation room expansion, additional clinic locations, more outpatient care facilities and the ability to nearly double the current number of primary care physicians and specialists. The $500 million investment will bring Mercy’s total monetary commitment to Northwest Arkansas to almost $1 billion in less than a decade.
Eric Pianalto, chief strategic growth officer for Mercy Arkansas, explained that all of Mercy’s initiatives are about the people it serves. “This investment is about people on the front end, whether it’s the recruitment of doctors or other investments, this is about meeting communities’ needs for primary and specialty care so we can serve in the best way possible,” he said.
Scotty Cooper, M.D., president of Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas, noted that this expansion and investment is driven by what Mercy has always done – meet the needs of the community. The U.S. Census Bureau ranked NWA as the sixth fastest-growing, mid-size metro area in the nation, and because of this, Cooper said health care is of the essence.
“The fastest-growing demographic in the area is 65-years-old and up, who happen to need more health care access,” Cooper explained. “We intend to make NWA a destination for health care and grow the depth and breadth of neuroscience, orthopedics, cardiology, gastroenterology and behavioral health.”
The future cancer center will be state-of-the-art, and designed in a way that keeps patients needs in mind. “A key element to this investment is the cancer center, which will be a multi-story facility and will take into account convenience for patients,” said Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Hospitals Arkansas.
According to Pianalto, the expansion process is a five year plan and will include hospital floors, additional floor space and more recruitment. “This work began with a $300 million investment in 2016 in the first phase, which was completed in Nov. 2019. All of this work will make for a five year project,” he said.
During phase one, Mercy completed the following projects in Arkansas: A $141 million, seven-story hospital tower in Rogers for expanded neonatal care, the McMillion Family Heart Unit, additional pediatric care and more; a multispeciality clinic in Springdale with a 24-hour emergency room; six additional clinics in NWA; a 22-bed dedicated orthopedic and spine unit; a new inpatient rehabilitation unit; expanded neurology care in NWA and Fort Smith; a rehabilitation hospital in Fort Smith; and a $42 million orthopedic hospital in Fort Smith, which features 24 beds and 24-hour patient care. Currently, there is a $162.5 million emergency room and intensive care unit expansion underway in Fort Smith as well, with an expected completion date in late 2024.
“Mercy Hospital is a low-cost provider and has 15% lower cost on high-quality care,” said Cooper. “We are focused on improving access and getting patients to the right care facility in an efficient manner. We will continue to work with what has been accomplished and build on that.
“This expansion will help in the transformation of health care. Moving forward in areas such as virtual care, population health and precision medicine, we take our patient’s lived experiences into consideration, helping them to maintain their health and keep them out of acute settings.”
Alice L. Walton School of Medicine
Elsewhere in Northwest Arkansas, development of the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine is in progress. The nonprofit, four-year medical degree-granting program will integrate conventional medicine with holistic principles and was founded in 2021. According to Beth Bobbitt, communications director for health initiatives at Art and Wellness Enterprises (AWE) – which serves as support for Alice Walton-founded nonprofits – the 154,000 square-foot medical facility will break ground in spring 2023.
“The School of Medicine is currently seeking national and institutional accreditation and is in the design and development phase of the building project,” Bobbitt said. “Architects, Polk Stanley Wilcox and landscape architect, OSD, have been selected for this project.”
According to Bobbitt, the goal for completion of this project is summer 2025, in order to welcome the inaugural class in fall 2025.
“The School of Medicine will be located east of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville and connected through the trails to the Whole Health Institute,” Bobbitt explained. “The proximity to arts and wellness organizations and building design embrace the principles of whole health, which are also supported by the healing properties of the landscape, trails, gardens and green space.”
The School of Medicine is focused on the whole person, and graduates of the school will help physicians of the future to redesign health care and contribute to improved health and wellbeing of residents.
“A report by the NWA Council Health Care Transformation Division shows we lose nearly $1 billion each year on outmigration of health care,” Bobbitt said. “In conjunction with expanding services through the new partnership between Alice L. Walton Foundation and Washington Regional Medical System, as well as the Cleveland Clinic, the School of Medicine is poised to integrate whole health principles into practice, creating a new pipeline for physicians and work to retain them in our region.”
As Arkansas-based Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects integrates the building into both the site and community, by design, it will engage the land as an abstraction of Ozark geology that will embrace the principles of integrated medicine and the link between mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. The building will feature four levels, including learning halls and small group rooms, a library, clinical teaching spaces, administrative offices, a student lounge, theater, recreation and wellness areas and more. The landscape of the school will be conceived as an extension of Crystal Bridges’ forest, allowing for seamless extension from the school’s campus to the trails.
“Alice L. Walton School of Medicine is excited to build upon the founder’s deep commitment to enhancing quality of life in NWA with a medical education that will focus on mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health,” Bobbitt said. “Pending accreditation approvals, the curriculum will include rigorous training in whole health and may also include subjects like humanities, integrative health, research, technology, interprofessional collaboration, mental health, social determinants of health and nutrition.”
In addition to other projects that span the state, Clark Contractors recently completed Arkansas Heart Hospital – Encore Medical Center in Bryant, which is Arkansas Heart Hospital’s second location.
CARTI announced in 2021 its plans to expand its Little Rock campus to include an on-site surgery center, and in Feb., CARTI opened its cancer center in Pine Bluff.
Arkansas Surgical Hospital recently expanded its North Little Rock center to include more operating rooms and anesthesia recovery rooms as well. And according to Kinco Constructors, the ARORA headquarters is currently under construction in West Little Rock. The ARORA headquarters will have 19,500 square-feet of space and 13,000 square-feet of office space with 11 private offices, 30 cubicle workstations, 3 conference rooms, 2 huddle rooms and one tornado safe room. There will also be 6,500 square-feet of clean room and clinical space for organ donation work.
In the northeastern corner of the state, NEA Baptist broke ground on a new state-of-the-art medical facility in Jonesboro. The newest clinic consists of three parts: the Red Wolf Clinic, Urgent Care Plus and Outpatient Imaging Services. As of June 2022, there was no opening date set for the facility’s opening.