The $1.2 million Mercy Sleep Center in Fort Smith will open Monday (July 20) with six beds and a backlog of patients already around 400, said Chellie Smith, sleep services director for the new center.
“It’s a sleepless town,” Smith quipped during a Thursday afternoon interview.
But sleep problems are no laughing matter for Smith and the other other nine employees – including sleep physician Dr. Stephen Snell – of the new center. The center is located at 5401 Ellsworth Road inside Mercy Plaza at the corner of Waldron and Ellsworth Road, and across the street from Central Mall.
The six new beds in Fort Smith join the two beds at a sleep center in Waldron. Within the next six months a two-bed sleep center will open in Ozark. The 10 beds in the Fort Smith area will be part of a 100-bed network for all St. Louis-based Mercy facilities in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
The new beds also are expected to reduce by around three weeks the average wait time for those who need testing.
Six “polysomnographic technologists” provide day and night sleep testing Monday through Friday. Daytime testing, Smith said, may seem odd, but for area shift workers with a pattern of working at night and sleeping through the day it makes perfect sense.
Daytime also is used for a “multiple sleep latency test” geared toward patients who may suffer from narcolepsy, Smith said.
A statement from Mercy noted that the International Classification of Sleep Disorders has identified more than 80 different sleep disorders, and less than 20% of those with disorders are “correctly diagnosed and treated.” Recent studies, according to the Mercy statement, indicate that up to 3% of children, 5% of women and 9% of men suffer from sleep related disorders. The new Mercy center is able to test children age 5 years and older.
“Untreated sleep apnea increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and stroke,” Mercy noted.
Smith, who has more than 20 years of sleep study experience, said much of what they have learned was used in the layout, colors, processes and other details used in the new center. For example, studies show that pale blue and green colors are more soothing than white. The rooms were designed to look like hotel rooms, and the testing equipment is hidden in cabinets one might expect to see in a home or hotel room. And the doors to each room have an automatic seal on the bottom that keeps out light and noise when they are closed.
Two of the six rooms in the new Fort Smith center were designed with larger chairs, doors and bath/shower areas to accommodate obese patients.
Smith also said the center is connected to all the other sleep centers in the Mercy network so they can share data and lessons learned within the system.
“With the system, with all of us on this network, we can all share in that … and really benefit from what everyone else is doing,” Smith explained.
A planned gift fully funded the new center through the Mercy Health Foundation.
“We couldn’t be more excited to see this much needed center come to life,” said John Davis, executive director of Mercy Health Foundation. “Our board of directors felt strongly this project would meet a critical need in our community, and we’re so thankful to the family bequest that made it possible.”
Sparks Health System has a Sleep Disorders Center in its main Fort Smith location. The center is open to those 16 years an older. HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Smith notes on its website that it has a sleep disorder clinic and is able to test patients 5 years of age and older.