Mercy Clinic-Fort Smith joined with the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) on Tuesday, Aug. 9, for a groundbreaking ceremony on a $7.9 million, 13,500 square-foot facility at Chaffee Crossing.
The new clinic will house eight full-time physicians and host the neighboring Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine’s (ARCOM) students and graduates for clinical training. The clinic will feature 28 exam rooms, X-ray, triage, and laboratory and conference space to accommodate training requirements of the medical school’s residency program.
The new Mercy Clinic-Fort Smith facility is located on land owned by ACHE. It will be the organization’s first tenant.
Dr. Cole Goodman, president of Mercy Clinic Fort Smith, said the new clinic would also improve access to healthcare for residents in Barling and the eastern and southern parts of Fort Smith.
“This clinic just reenforces our commitment to serving Fort Smith regional communities and one of the things we’ve mentioned is access for people to the east. But the patient population for people from the south will improve as well. They can come right up and hit I-49 and get off at Massard, then Chad Colley (Blvd.), and they’re right here. It will certainly increase access,” Goodman said.
Dr. Natasha Bray, associate dean of clinical medicine at ARCOM, said the clinic will offer internal medicine and family medicine residency programs and that, in addition the eight full-time doctors, “my faculty will see patients here as well.”
“They will be here on a part-time basis, and then we will have the medical students and the residents that will train here,” she explained. “The goal, hopefully, is that we actually keep them in the community.”
To highlight the growing need for in-state physicians, Bray said Arkansas is 48th in the United States for the overall health of its population, presenting a “huge challenge.”
Bray continued: “How do we begin to undertake the fact that we rank 48th in the number of adult patients who smoke? We’re 46th in obesity. We’re number 50 in obesity rates with every county in the state of Arkansas having more than 50% of their population either classified as overweight or obese. We believe that one of the things we can do to begin moving the needle in the opposite direction is to begin producing healthcare providers, and what an amazing opportunity it is to have this clinic right across the street.”
Regardless of whether those trained at the new Mercy Clinic-Fort Smith stay in-state, the facility will support “quite a few people,” Bray said.
“Every student that comes through here will probably touch this clinic in some way, at some point, and that gives this clinic a pretty powerful opportunity to touch lives as well,” she said.
The Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine is the first of more planned colleges that will be part of ACHE. It is a $32.4 million, 102,000 square-foot facility, and was funded largely by a $60 million grant from the Degen Foundation. Since its announcement in 2014, it has received $106.9 million in funds.
ARCOM’s first class of 150 will be in session next summer and will graduate in 2021. The Mercy Clinic-Fort Smith facility should finish construction in nine months and begin seeing patients shortly thereafter in May 2017.