Scan the Northwest Arkansas horizon, and you’ll see dirt work and hear plans for new state-of-the-art facilities that include a medical school, a sports medicine center and multiple specialty clinics, as well as facilities for orthopedic and plastic-surgery experts.
One of the biggest changes to health care availability in the area is the increasing access to specialty care. Northwest Arkansas for decades has had good access to affordable primary health care, but it has lacked in specialty care options. That, coupled with a growing population, raised questions about the future of NWA health care.
To get a better understanding, the Northwest Arkansas Council commissioned a study of the region’s health care system and its economic impact. The 2019 study made several significant findings and defined an action plan.
It found that the region has good quality, low-cost primary care but was deficient in high-level specialty care in almost every category, resulting in residents seeking care outside the region.
Additions such as the recently announced Cleveland Clinic will cut transit time for many residents who currently have to travel out of the region to receive specialty care.
The Alice L. Walton Foundation joined the Cleveland Clinic in the fall of 2021 to announce a partnership focused on improving the access to specialty health care in Northwest Arkansas. The joint initiative will partner with Washington Regional Medical Center to further the goal of bringing world-class specialty treatment and facilities to the region.
Also, last fall, Washington Regional purchased 15 acres for $6.6 million with plans for future expansion. The land purchase is to the west of the current medical campus in Fayetteville. That same month, officials announced plans for a new medical office building in the west Rogers area, off South Champion Drive in the Pinnacle Hills submarket.
The three-story, 45,780-square-foot building is being developed for Advanced Orthopedic Specialists and Northwest Center for Plastic Surgery and will feature a surgery center on the first floor. The second floor will be shared by Advanced Orthopedic Specialists and Northwest Center for Plastic Surgery, and the third floor will have medical office space available for lease. The building is slated to be completed by August.
Before the fall flurry of announcements, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) made its own announcement of a 31-plus-acre purchase for $13.6 million at the corner of Watkins Avenue and Gene George Boulevard in Springdale for its new sports medicine center and orthopedic hospital. The site will border Arvest Ballpark and Arkansas Children’s Northwest Hospital.
The 185,000-square-foot medical center is expected to cost $85 million, according to announcements made at the time. The development sits in the medical corridor on the west side of Interstate 49. This Springdale Care Corridor has become home to many of the world’s leading health care providers, all in about a 5-mile stretch adjacent to the interstate.
A few of the providers include Highlands Oncology, Willow Creek Women’s Hospital, Springdale Center for Health, Hope Cancer Resources, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Arkansas Children’s Northwest, Mercy ER and Clinic, Northwest Medical Plaza & Urgent Care, Children’s Safety Center of Washington County, Creekside Center for Women, Center for Children’s Health and Wellness and Ozark Guidance.
UAMS also purchased 48 acres south of Pleasant Grove Road along I-49 in November, just 11 miles north of its Springdale location, with expansion in mind, although plans and timing have not been announced.
Along with the Cleveland Clinic news, The Alice L. Walton Foundation last year announced plans to develop a 75,000-square-foot, multiuse office building that will house the Whole Health Institute, the Chopra Library and Art Bridges. The site will be on the 120-acre Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art property in Bentonville. The Whole Health Institute is a nonprofit agency driven to improve access to world-class health care in Northwest Arkansas.
The building will open in 2024 according to the Whole Health Institute website. The foundation had already announced plans in early 2021 to break ground in 2022 on a new medical school development in Bentonville. This will be an independent nonprofit, sister component to the Whole Health Institute.
The Whole Health School of Medicine and Health Sciences is expected to be finished in 2024. This four-year medical school is part of Walton’s greater Whole Health Initiative in place to dramatically improve access to affordable health care in Northwest Arkansas.
All of these projects add up to an unprecedented focus on health care that’s poised to turn our area into what some are calling a “health care mecca.” Look for NWA to become the place people travel TO instead of from for all of their health care needs.
Steve Lane is the managing director of the Northwest Arkansas office of Colliers International.