The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is building a stand-alone clinic in Fort Smith that could add around 100 jobs to the Fort Smith metro and “significantly” increase healthcare access for veterans.
The VA announced Thursday (Dec. 26) it will build a 45,900-square-foot facility at 5500 Phoenix Ave., more than doubling the space the VA operates at 1500 Dodson Ave., which is rented from Little Rock-based Baptist Health. The new facility, according to the press release from the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, will add about 100 jobs with doctors, nurses and support staff.
“This decision strengthens Fort Smith’s affinity for its veterans and insures that they’ll continue receiving the high level of care that they deserve,” Tim Allen, chamber president and CEO, said in the statement. “Discussions for this facility have been ongoing for more than two years and we couldn’t be more pleased that the Department of Veterans Affairs has chosen to not only keep this facility based in the community, but expand their presence here.”
Cost of construction is estimated in the $10 million to $12 million range, Allen said. He said that does not include furniture, fixtures and equipment. It is estimated construction will take at least a year, meaning the clinic opening is likely in the first quarter of 2021.
“This is just one more tangible decision by an organization who understands the resources that Fort Smith has to offer,” Allen noted in the statement. “This facility will showcase leading-edge technology, skilled talent, a full scope of services and increase the already overall high level of medical care in the region.”
According to the chamber, there are about 15,000 veterans in Crawford, Franklin and Sebastian counties who use the Dodson clinic, and a larger facility will allow “significantly” more veterans to have access to healthcare, Allen told Talk Business & Politics.
Allen also told Talk Business & Politics that the Phoenix Avenue location was one of six sites in the region reviewed by the VA for the clinic. Nearby hotels, restaurants, access to public transportation and other “amenities a family would need” were part of the criteria, Allen said. The selected site is also immediately adjacent to the 188th Air Wing base.
“We were always pitching it that being next to the military base was a good selling point,” Allen said.
The VA operates several clinics in the state, and has medical centers in Fayetteville, Little Rock and North Little Rock. There were 222,286 veterans in Arkansas as of Sept. 30, 2017, according to the VA, which is 9.84% of the total state population. Of those, 103,503, or almost 47%, are age 65 or older.
Following are the number of veterans in the Fort Smith metro receiving VA disability or pension compensation in fiscal year 2018.
Crawford County: 1,063
Franklin County: 271
Logan County: 354
Sebastian County: 2,171