Life for 12-year-old Sarah Hollingsworth and her dad Michael Hollingsworth of Hiwasse is centered largely around Sarah’s battle with Leukemia since first diagnosed in September 2017.
Sarah is one of 1,855 patients admitted to Arkansas Children’s Northwest since the facility opened in Springdale a year ago. She came in through the emergency room after spiking a high temperature and Michael Hollingsworth said knowing his daughter is getting the best care so close to home is priceless.
Before ACH opened in Springdale, Hollingsworth made the 3.5-hour trip to Little Rock for his daughter’s weekly treatments and that meant getting home late at night. Hollingsworth said to care for Sarah meant an early retirement for him as he is her sole caregiver. His wife died in 2015. He considers Arkansas Children’s part of his extended family, with the highest praise for the care Sarah receives and major applause to the social workers who keep his spirits high as well.
“This place is centered around the best care for kids and they take care of me, too,” Hollingsworth said.
Trisha Montague, the administrator for Arkansas Children’s Northwest, said stories like Hollingsworth’s are common around the new hospital. That goes for all the children in the surrounding area who should need service, from setting a broken bone in the emergency room to routine outpatient services and chemotherapy for cancer patients like Sarah.
In the year since the facility opened, the hospital reports 27,143 outpatient visits, 16,732 emergency room visits and 1,821 surgical procedures for the region’s youngest residents. Montague said she is pleased with the volume of patients and knows the facility is having an impact on the lives of families around the region.
She said the outpatient clinic that relocated to Springdale from Lowell quickly ran of out capacity. The hospital expanded that with 12 new exams rooms which were taken from unfinished square-footage in the building. The new rooms opened in January, and she expects the outpatient clinic will see 30,000 visits this year.
The emergency room is busier, but Montague said education is required to encourage parents to bring children to the hospital for routine injuries like cuts and breaks. She said because the region has not had this option long, it’s often not the first thing families consider.
“Everything we do here is geared toward a child and the experience is truly different from that in traditional emergency rooms,” Montague said.
Patients like Sarah can also be admitted through the emergency room and the ER also works as a unit to stabilize patients that need to be transferred to Little Rock for more acute care. Montague said Angel One, the healthcare provider’s patient transport program, made anywhere from 450 and 500 flights between Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock in the first year of operation. She expects that many flights or more this year as the region’s population continues to grow.
Arkansas Children’s Northwest has 24 in-patient beds and kids like Sarah are glad to be able to recover closer to home. Michael Hollingsworth said now with Sarah in Springdale, he can go home at night and feed his animals and check on things, knowing she is just 30 minutes away. He said the drive to Springdale once a week for routine blood work is much easier than the full day to Little Rock and back.
“Sometimes we come in here and we can be headed back home in 30 minutes,” Hollingsworth said.
Sarah is in her maintenance round of chemotherapy which can be taken orally at home. Hollingsworth said weekly trips to Springdale are to check for recurrence and ensure Sarah’s blood count stays high. He said when the treatment is complete in December, he will make the trip to Little Rock if Sarah wants to go to ring the survivor bell.
Montague said there is more to be done. She said the hospital has recruited a pediatric endocrinologist who will be based in Springdale beginning in August. She said it’s the first time the region has had a pediatric specialist. They are also working with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) to recruit a gastroenterologist for pediatrics to Northwest Arkansas, hopefully by the end of this year.
With respect to the day-to-day operations at Arkansas Children’s Northwest, Montague said there have been more than 94,000 volunteer hours logged which is invaluable to the young facility. She said hospital staffing remains at about 340 employees. She said hospital continues to be supported financially by the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation and the goal is to be self-supportive within the next three years.
Montague said she is pleased with the first year of operation.
I have lived and worked in some great communities but the enthusiasm for what we do here is unparalleled,” she said. “The community support continues. We are creating a level of health care for children and families in the region that hasn’t existed before.”