A growing population in Northwest Arkansas and continued benevolent support for Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation are two good reasons why the Little Rock-based hospital is reportedly eyeing Springdale for a new child specialty facility.
The formal announcement is slated for Friday (Aug. 7) at the Color of Hope Charity Gala to benefit the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation. Until then, the foundation and the hospital remain tight-lipped about their footprint expansion.
“We’ll be confirming a lot of rumors that have been floating around,” said Dr. Robert Steele, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “We’ll also be dispelling a lot of those rumors because I’ve seen more stuff both talked about and in print that are kind of wild conjecture that are not accurate.”
Land donation from the Gary George Family, owners of George’s Chicken, is reportedly in the works for the proposed facility which would be located in Springdale, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The expansion in Northwest Arkansas and the planned announcement “is greater than what we’re currently doing,” Steele said.
He confirmed that hospital officials have been talking to community, medical and business leaders in the area since November “and very quickly came to the conclusion that what we are supplying up in Northwest Arkansas is not sufficient for what the needs are up there,” he said.
Pat Driscoll, spokeswoman for Northwest Health System, told The City Wire they recently have had meetings to find opportunities to work together with Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She refrained from sharing any other details until after Friday’s announcement.
Arkansas Children’s opened a clinic in Lowell in 2007, and the sub-specialty clinic now has 25,000 patient visits each year. The hospital collaborates with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Department of Pediatrics for the Lowell Clinic.
Northwest Health nor Mercy Hospital returned requests for the number of patients they had transferred to Arkansas Children’s in the past year. That said, all of the three major hospitals in Northwest Arkansas partner with Arkansas Children’s for specialty pediatrics.
Local economist Kathy Deck said this is great news for Northwest Arkansas and likely a direct result of the region’s growing population numbers which topped the half million mark a year ago. Deck is the director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas. She said health services tend to follow population growth and density and it’s a positive feed back loop that eventually means there are more people hired to work in these speciality centers.
“Anecdotally, we all know someone who has had to take a family child to Little Rock for specialized care. Having these services here at home is good for this region and will no doubt draw patients in from Fort Smith, eastern Oklahoma and southwest Missouri,” Deck said.
She also said the region’s population skews younger with many in the child-bearing years, which is likely driving the increased demand for specialized child care services.
“This would also allow the three local hospitals to tailor their services accordingly as to not duplicate services but perhaps offer other areas of speciality. Having more specialists in a region promotes higher quality of life,” Deck said.
A new facility, whether it’s a hospital or specialized clinic, also would be an important regional asset because it would mean more health service jobs to an already growing sector, Deck said.
In Education & Health Services, employment in Northwest Arkansas was an estimated 24,900 during June, down from 25,100 in May but up from 23,900 during June 2014. April and May employment are records for the category, according to the figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The annual average employment of 24,400 during 2014 also was a record for the metro area. Employment in the sector also is up almost 17% from just five years ago when June 2010 sector jobs stood at 21,300.
Deck also said health care services in Northwest Arkansas have historically been supported by benevolent individuals which is another reason why the Little Rock-based hospital is likely to expand in the area.