A $10.5 million expansion in Fort Smith by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) will more than double a family medical center that not only provides training for new physicians but helps provides medical care for more than 4,000 people a month.
Officials with Little Rock-based UAMS and Fort Smith-based Sparks Health System gathered Thursday (March 3) for a ceremonial groundbreaking on a new 30,000-square foot family medical clinic in the UAMS West program – formerly known as AHEC, or Area Health Education Center. The new facility is located at 612 S. 12th St., adjacent to the existing 23,300-square-foot operation and near Spark Hospital.
Those gathered at Thursday’s groundbreaking included UAMS Chancellor Dr. Dan Rahn, Sparks Health System CEO Dan McKay, UAMS Vice Chancellor for Regional Programs Tim Hill, and Mark Kenneday, UAMS vice chancellor for campus operations.
Construction on the new building is expected to begin in early April and be completed during the first quarter of 2017, said UAMS West Center Director Don Heard. When finished, UAMS West will have more than 53,300 square foot of space. The existing building will be used for administration, education, and tech support.
The UAMS outreach program has been in Fort Smith since 1973, and its purpose is to provide residency – training for those in medical school – opportunities outside of Little Rock for UAMS students. Fort Smith is one of eight regional UAMS centers, and one of six to have a residency program affiliation. The other locations with residency training are Fayetteville-Springdale, Jonesboro, Magnolia, Pine Bluff and Texarkana.
UAMS West also owns a 4,400-square-foot building near the existing operation in Fort Smith, but that will be torn down for parking space with the new building, Heard said.
The program in Fort Smith has grown over the years and now has 28 residents and about 70 staff – including faculty, lab workers, nurses and administration. The Fort Smith operation has an annual budget of around $10 million, and Heard said it has “proven to be very very successful” in training physicians and convincing them to stay in the area. According to Heard, 220 residents have trained in Fort Smith since 1993, and 143 are practicing in Arkansas and 92 are practicing in western Arkansas.
To help with the growth in health care services and the ongoing U.S. physician shortage, Heard said UAMS West will also offer education in nursing, pharmacy and for physician assistants. All of this will be focused, Heard said, on providing more medical care and supporting medical partners. The program now sees about 3,000 patients a month in the UAMS West clinic and between 1,300-1,400 patients at Sparks Hospital.
“We deliver babies. We take care of young children and we take care of adults. … And we also see people in nursing homes,” Heard said to explain that UAMS West is more than just a classroom program.
HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY GROWTH
Heard said construction of the modern facility should allow UAMS West to help meet provider needs in the region for at least another 15 years.
“We think this is what we need for the next 15-plus years in this area,” Heard said, noting later that “as our state grows, as western Arkansas grows, we will have an expanded need for primary care, physician assistants and other medical personnel.”
The region also will get a boost in medical training from the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM) now under construction in Fort Smith (Chaffee Crossing). Work began in February 2015 on the $32.4 million facility located in the Chaffee Crossing area. The school will be housed in a three story, 102,000-square-foot building. The first class of 150 is set to begin in the fall of 2017 if the program is approved by the appropriate accrediting body. By the fourth year enrollment should reach 600.
The new college is estimated to employ around 92 (full-time equivalent jobs) with an average salary of $116,000 – not including adjunct professors and other part-time support.
Mercy Clinic-Fort Smith has said it will build a $7.9 million clinic near the ACOM as part of a residency program between the two organizations.
The Education and Health Services sector has been a growing employment area for the Fort Smith region. The sector employed 16,700 in December, above the 16,200 in December 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The December employment is up 5.03% compared to five years ago and up almost 22% compared to 10 years ago. Fort Smith metro employment in the sector reached a high of 16,800 in November.
Arkansas’ Education and Health Services sector during December had 180,500 jobs, up from 179,100 in November and up from 173,500 during December 2014. Employment in the sector is up 21% compared to December 2005. December also marked a new record for employment in the sector.