Dr. Cole Goodman unwillingly stepped away from his career as a plastic surgeon in 2009, but he had a tearful message for the community of Fort Smith Thursday night.
His work is not finished.
The Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce honored Goodman on Thursday, Sept. 22, with its 2016 Healthcare Award at the Blue Lion. An emotional Goodman acknowledged he had to stop operating seven years ago due to health reasons. But from that closed door, he said, another opened in his position as the president and CEO of Mercy Clinic-Fort Smith.
Goodman took on the role in 2010 and in his tenure has worked closely with Dr. Kyle Parker and the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) to boost the area’s health education profile. That work has resulted in ACHE’s first major contribution, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM), which is set to open in 2017.
Work began on the $32.4 million facility located in the Chaffee Crossing area in February 2015. The school will be housed in the three story, 102,000-square-foot building, and a fully operational osteopathic college is expected to serve about 600 students with each class graduating 150 students.
One area where Goodman proved especially vital, Parker said in comments at the awards ceremony, was in establishing the residencies ARCOM students would need to complete their education and tackle the region’s shortage of doctors. Fort Smith alone has a shortage of around 158 doctors and is a microcosm of why Arkansas ranks as one of the most underserved regions in the nation (No. 49). ARCOM plans to graduate 150 doctors annually to combat that with each one expected to produce an average economic impact of $1.2 million per year.
“And because Cole went to the national arena of Mercy and got them to sign up these residencies, we are now on the cusp of having all the residencies necessary to keep these doctors here in the state of Arkansas, and it is because of that we are going to be able to make a difference,” Parker said.
Despite that, said Mercy President Ryan Gehrig, “When Cole was informed he was going to receive this award, he said, ‘I don’t know why I’m receiving this,’ and I said, ‘Cole, I can’t think of anyone else more deserving than you.'”
In remarks to attendees, Goodman shared some perspective on the work Fort Smith has ahead of it to improve regional healthcare.
“When I graduated in 1973, there were 211 million in the country. Today there are 325 million,” he said, adding that Fort Smith providers alone serve 13 counties in Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma totaling around 455,000 patients per year.
He continued: “In that time, the population has increased 70% while the physicians and nurses that graduated and began serving our community increased by 5%. I envision a day when Fort Smith can graduate so many doctors we won’t have a place to put them all.”
The way to do that, Goodman said, is to create “a great place for people to live, so we can recruit them to Fort Smith and give them the chance to practice state-of-the-art medicine the way they want to do it and provide for their patients the way they need to do it.”
Goodman believes that’s what Fort Smith is in the process of building with “outstanding” public and private support, low crime rates, low fire insurance rates, a strong water supply, and a landfill with “another 90 years on it.”
“There are very few communities that can say all of that, but without good healthcare, we can’t provide for the businesses that we’re going to need to achieve economic development,” Goodman said.