Bringing primary healthcare access closer to where Northwest Arkansans live is behind the opening of a new 7,500 square-foot clinic in Pea Ridge. Appointments for the first week are nearly full, according to Dr. Steve Goss, president of Mercy Clinic.
Goss told Talk Business & Politics getting primary care access into growing areas like Pea Ridge is important so those living in the bedroom community don’t have to travel up and down the corridor to see their family doctors.
The Pea Ridge facility is one of six clinics in the works as part of Mercy’s $247 million investment over the next two years that also is adding a new tower to Mercy Hospital in Rogers. The Pea Ridge clinic carried a price tag of $4.1 million and will be staffed with Dr. Matthew Jennings, a nurse practitioner and will have 14 exam rooms. The clinic is located at 200 Carr St.
Jennings brings more than two decades of experience to the new clinic. His expertise is family practice, emergency medicine and urgent care while he has also has experience in numerous medical supervisory roles. Jennings said he likes to pick up shifts in the hospital’s emergency room because it helps keep his skills sharp and enhance his day-to-day practice.
“In family medicine, we still do acute care, because some people who walk in are having an emergency,” he said. “In emergency rooms, we develop more of that instinct to quickly recognize conditions. I can put both together to know when I can treat a patient and when they need more help than I can give. Knowing your limits is one important piece of family medicine.”
He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and earned his medical degree from Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. He served as a combat surgeon and a family practice physician while on active duty. His military service included family practice at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Bragg, N.C., as well as battalion surgeon with the 82nd Airborne Division during the invasion and initial occupation of Baghdad during Operation Freedom. Jennings received the Bronze Star for his actions in combat zones.
When asked why he chose a military academy if his end goal was to be a doctor, Jennings said leadership is key to being a good doctor.
“I have just 15 minutes to make an impact with patients. If I don’t gain trust, demonstrate my knowledge and convey information about their situation in that short time, then I’ve lost them. I have failed as a leader. In medicine, leadership is being able to guide people so that they can be better,” he said.
Jennings said Pea Ridge is an ideal place for him to establish a family medicine practice. It’s a small town that seems to radiate what he calls “hometown America,” where people know and care about each other.
“Most of my practice has been in small, rural communities. I like to feel that I’m a part of the community as opposed to someone who just works in the community,” he said. “The goal of family medicine is to create long-lasting relationships with an entire family over years of care. I think Pea Ridge is a great place to do that.”
Mercy is not a newcomer to Pea Ridge. The provider had a smaller clinic there more than a decade ago. When that clinic closed, Mercy donated the building to the City of Pea Ridge. It been used as a library and community center for nearly 10 years.
Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree thanked Dr. Goss for returning a Mercy clinic to the community, and keeping his promise to do so if the opportunity ever arose. Crabtree said the clinic will be a tremendous asset and given the city’s ongoing growth the need for medical service is a must.
Goss told Talk Business & Politics next month Mercy will break ground on a clinic in Bentonville on North Walton Boulevard across from a Walmart Neighborhood Market. A larger clinic will also be built in Springdale near the Elm Springs Road exit along Interstate 49. The Springdale site will also include an emergency clinic and accommodate several providers in a large practice similar to the large clinic in Bella Vista. Goss said that clinic will take about 15 months to complete.
Construction continues on a new clinic located in Southwest Bentonville on I Street in front of the Bentonville Community Center. Other clinics in the works include West Bella Vista, East Springdale and Siloam Springs. The clinics are still in the site selection phase, according to Goss.
When asked what kind of impact a repeal of the Affordable Care Act might have on this capacity expansion across Northwest Arkansas, Goss said likely not too much.
“We have been so far behind in capacity for so long just because of the region’s growth, I don’t see any real impact,” Goss said. “One of the concerns with ACA is there wouldn’t be enough primary care access for people. Right now while many people have insurance there are also have very large deductibles and what we have seen is people sometimes let conditions get pretty bad before they seek care because they have to pay out of pocket for most of the primary care.”
Goss said areas like Centerton, where Mercy put a new clinic two years ago, is busy and there is a need to ramp up with two more providers to help with the caseload. He said Mercy believes in a distributive model to best deliver primary care and the clinics are key to that strategy. When asked about the supply of doctors and other advanced healthcare professional and constraints in recruitment, Goss said Mercy is leaning on nurse practitioners to facilitate its larger clinic strategy. He said about one-third of the primary care providers are nurse practitioners which he said are a great compliment to Mercy’s team approach.
“We also have been fortunate in recruiting doctors to this region. It’s not nearly as hard as it used to be to sell the region. We have doctors who might have grew up here or spent time here in their past now wanting to come back. Nationally recruitment is a challenge but it’s easier here than it used to be given this region is becoming a healthcare destination,” Goss said.