ACHE to buy Golden Living building and property, create health and wellness center and expand research lab

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 10,652 views 

It’s a game-changer, part two. That’s the claim by Kyle Parker, CEO of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE), about buying Golden Living’s former headquarters building in Fort Smith and creating national models for health and wellness instruction and medical research.

The first game-changer, of course, was when members of the Fort Smith-based Degen Foundation used part of $70 million from the sale of Sparks Health System in November 2009 to what was then Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates to build the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) at Chaffee Crossing. The $32.4 million college and its 103,000 square feet is now home to 600 medical students. ACHE has since built a 66,000-square-foot College of Health Science building on the campus that will be home to physical therapy, occupational therapy, and physician assistant degree programs.

ACHE and ARCOM initially resulted in 65 jobs with an average salary of $103,000. The employment is now more than 150, with the average salary around $160,000, Parker said. Subsequent investments, both direct and ancillary – to include a trail system, housing, retail space, and nearby medical facilities – related to the ACHE mission have created a small city on 433 acres in east Fort Smith.

Always looking for opportunities “where it makes the most sense, where we think we can have a true game-changer impact,” Parker said he brought the idea of purchasing the 318,000-square-foot Golden Living building. It’s a few miles away on the south and west of Fort Smith to the ACHE board.

“I told the board it will be the second-biggest decision you’ve ever made. And you know what? It was a unanimous decision. They get it,” Parker said.

Parker would not disclose the price of the deal to buy the building and 54.5 acres. It is valued by the Sebastian County Assessor at around $16.125 million. He did say the initial investment will be around $20 million and will create between 30 and 50 jobs. The five-story building will be used by ACHE for two primary purposes: A health and wellness center, and space for what ACHE says “will make us the largest research institution of any osteopathic school in the nation.” Golden Living-affiliated companies will continue to lease the second and third floors. The first floor will house the health and wellness center, and the fourth and fifth floors will be used for the research facility. The fifth floor also could be used for offices, Parker said.

Parker said the center and the research space could be fully operational within 18 months.

Dr. Elizabeth McClain will be promoted from vice president of academic affairs to the chief wellness officer.

Dr. Elizabeth McClain

“Dr. McClain will change her role to take on the charge of working with churches, school districts, governmental agencies, hospitals, community business leaders, colleges and universities, courts, and 501©(3) agencies,” Parker said in an ACHE statement. “With space constraints a non-issue, we have the opportunity to change the bottom line. We will have all the tools to work with our community to transform health and wellness.”

Parker said a big part of the health and wellness center is to reduce the number of people in the area who need medical services. It may seem counter-intuitive that an organization producing doctors for clinics and hospital systems would want to reduce patient demand. Still, Parker said reducing demand is part of the solution for a looming physician shortage. Parker said estimates suggest soon, there will be only one general physician per 10,000 people.

“So we’re attacking this from both ends. We’re training the docs and, hopefully, with this (health and wellness) creating a healthier community,” Parker told Talk Business & Politics.

Part of the center’s numerous activities is to develop “health nutrition” curriculum for K-12 students up to older adults. ACHE is already working with many regional school districts and non-profits on using the center. Parker said talks are underway to partner with Bentonville-based Brightwater, which “offers uniquely holistic programming with academic and career training in the areas of culinary nutrition, artisanal food, beverage management, and food entrepreneurship.”

McClain said the health and wellness center would address eight “domains of wellness” that include emotional, intellectual, environmental and social.

“This approach is integrated with evidence-based models that address the social determinants of health, access to care, the physical environment, health behaviors. Positive change always begins with an idea that transforms actions. I have been so impressed with the community’s drive to improve the well-being of our residents. I look forward to the impact we can as we work together. Our first step will identify the key players in order to guide our holistic wellness programming,” she said in a statement.

Acquiring the Golden Living property allows the ACHE Biological Research Lab to move from the 7,000 square feet lab now housed in the ARCOM to as much as 120,000 square feet. Dr. Talal El-Hefnawy, ACHE director of research, will be in charge of the new space, and Dr. Thomas Yorio has been hired as a research consultant to help with the design.

Dr. Talal El-Hefnawy

“This new location will make us the largest research institution of any osteopathic school in the nation. We will now have the space to focus on other types of research,” Parker said.

Ongoing research lab space is now used by pre-clinical doctorates and clinical doctors and includes wet lab and dry lab research. Parker said there are under ten research projects currently underway, “but that will explode with this kind of space and the new equipment we will add.”

“Serological research has already begun on the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) campus as ARCOM researchers are actively involved in studies to help find a solution to the antibody questions of COVID-19,” ACHE noted in its statement.

El-Hafnawy said the move by ACHE to significantly expand research space “proves that ACHE is no longer seeking a competitive edge, but a regional and a national leadership role.” Yorio said the research will not only help the regional economy but will provide practical medical benefits.

“The plans to add state-of-the-art research and clinical facilities within the same complex will allow for the translation of research from the bench to the bedside. Besides the enormous effect it will have on the well-being of the population of Fort Smith, it will also add a substantial economic impact,” Yorio said.

The large campus in Fort Smith was completed in the late 1990s as the corporate headquarters for Beverly Enterprises. In May 1990, Beverly Enterprises moved its corporate headquarters from Pasadena, Calif., to Fort Smith. The first building Beverly occupied in Fort Smith was part of the strip mall in the rear of Central Mall.

San Francisco-based Fillmore Capital acquired Beverly in 2006 in a $2.2 billion deal. After the publicly held company was taken private, the named changed to Golden Living. In early 2011, the company moved headquarters operations to Plano (Dallas), leaving the Fort Smith facility as its administrative center.

In 2016, Golden Living sold its Aegis, AseraCare and 360 Staffing service divisions. The company also sold around 140 of its more than 300 nursing home centers. Golden Living then employed about 900 in Fort Smith. Employment in late 2018 was about 400.

The building was listed for sale in April 2018.