UAMS seeks approval for $85 million ortho/sports medicine building in Northwest Arkansas

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 2,273 views 

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) will seek approval Wednesday (March 17) to build an $85 million orthopedic and sports medicine facility in Northwest Arkansas.

Consideration of the project is part of the two-day agenda of the University of Arkansas System board of trustees meeting that begins Wednesday.

According to agenda materials, UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson will recommend Marlon Blackwell Architects with DSC Architects to lead the 185,000-square-foot building’s design. Nabholz Construction will be recommended as the general contractor.

The building will include up to 12 operating rooms and a limited number of patient beds. The building’s specialty clinics will consist of sports performance, physical therapy, orthopedic, imaging, research and education.

UAMS has earmarked bond funds to pay for the project, according to the agenda. That’s a different path than previously discussed during a UA System board meeting this past fall.

In October, the board authorized UAMS to negotiate the terms of a letter of intent to pursue a lease agreement for a new building. The lease agreement was to be with commercial real estate development firm Cushman & Wakefield/Sage Partners in Rogers.

As part of the negotiated lease, UAMS would have the option to assume the outstanding debt at a mutually agreeable date or purchase the facility for $1 at the end of a 30-year lease term.

The agenda materials for this week’s meeting make no mention of Sage Partners. A UAMS spokeswoman declined to comment ahead of the board meeting.

In the past year, UAMS has bolstered its orthopedic practice in the area by hiring five surgeons: Wesley Cox, Patrick Brannan, Tyler CarlLee, Navin Kilambi and Chad Songy. They are performing surgeries at other facilities.

“These surgeons are only able to generate professional fees for such cases; the technical/hospital-based part of the fee is collected by the facility where the surgery is performed,” UA System President Don Bobbitt wrote in a letter to the board this past fall. “If the cases could be performed at a UAMS facility, this technical fee would also be secured by UAMS, which would result in a projected $3-4 million margin on the orthopedic practice alone.”

Amanda George, vice chancellor of finance and CFO at UAMS, said previously that UAMS’ orthopedic practice in Northwest Arkansas now runs at an annual deficit of approximately $3 million.

UAMS currently leases two sites in Lowell and Fayetteville to provide orthopedic clinical services. Those clinics would close once the new building opens.

UAMS was also announced recently as the new sports medicine provider for the University of Arkansas athletics department.

Little Rock-based UAMS, the state’s only academic health center, established a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in 2007 in the former 323,510-square-foot Washington Regional Medical Center on College Avenue in Fayetteville but does not have a surgical center or hospital in the region. UAMS has an additional 400,000 square feet at other centers in Northwest Arkansas.

This week’s board meeting agenda did not mention a specific Northwest Arkansas site where the UAMS building will be built. Still, speculation would logically lead to the area west of Interstate 49 near the Don Tyson Parkway exit in Springdale. It is a growing medical corridor but still has plenty of available land left to develop.

Little Rock-based Arkansas Children’s and Northwest Arkansas-based Highlands Oncology Group have built multimillion-dollar facilities recently in that vicinity. A 76,000-square-foot medical office building for Little Rock-based USAble Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, is under construction in the same area.

A five-story, 80,000-square-foot building called Center for Children’s Health & Wellness is also under construction near Arkansas Children’s Northwest.

Patterson will also ask for board approval to expand the Northwest Arkansas regional campus by adding a three-year MD degree primary care track and a four-year MD parallel track beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year.

That would expand the campus from third- and fourth-year medical students to a campus for students in all years of the curriculum. All students in the UAMS College of Medicine currently complete their first two years at the Little Rock campus.

“Offering the three-year MD degree primary care track parallel to the traditional four-year MD program will reduce time needed to prepare students and will also reduce the student debt accrued by these future primary care physicians,” Patterson wrote in a letter to the board.

The primary care will be designed for students who intend to enter residency training in family medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics. Students would choose the current four-year curriculum or the new parallel track three-year primary care track curriculum.

UAMS would only offer the primary care parallel track at the Northwest Arkansas campus.

The board meeting begins at 1 p.m. Wednesday.