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ADVANCES IN HEALTH

Fort Smith is a rapidly growing health-care destination. With full-service hospitals and an orthopedic hospital, a growing number of free-standing clinics that provide specialists, generalists and walk-in care, a proposed medical school and new residency spots to support it, western Arkansas looks on track to continue the growth.

Mercy Hospital Fort Smith, Sparks Regional Medical Center and Mercy Orthopedic Hospital promise residents of the greater Fort Smith region and beyond excellent in-patient services as well as diagnostic tools and cutting-edge, life-saving procedures.

Since the Rev. George Degen of St. John’s Episcopal Church first collected money from merchants along Garrison Avenue in 1887 to open St. John’s Hospital, that facility, now known as Sparks Health System, has been growing.

In 2009, Sparks Health System was purchased by Health Management Associates, which also operates Sparks Van Buren, a 103-bed acute care center formerly known as Summit Medical Center in Van Buren.

That same year, Sparks helped found the AOK (Arkansas/Oklahoma) Healthcare Consortium, which uses telemedicine technology to provide around-the-clock emergency stroke care, now available in 11 regional hospitals.

Mercy Hospital Fort Smith, Mercy Orthopedic Hospital and Mercy Clinic are part of the sixth-largest Catholic health-care systems in the United States. In the Fort Smith region, they offer an outpatient surgery center, a women’s center, a cancer center as well as a sleep center, home care and  hospice and palliative care.

In the last several years, Mercy Clinic has opened several clinic locations staffed by physicians and other health-care providers, including physician assistants and advanced-practice nurses. Sparks and Cooper Clinic also uses these “physician extenders” help to meet the medical need in the area.

Another measure expected to extend health care in the area is the proposed Arkansas Colleges of Health Education at Chaffee Crossing. The construction of the new $31 million, 102,000-square-foot medical school is within a few months of being completed as the American Osteopathic Association’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation continues its review.

Mercy Clinic broke ground in 2016 on a new $7.9 million clinic near the college in Chaffee Crossing. Mercy Clinic Fort Smith and ACHE have collaborated to build the 13,500-square-foot clinic, which will feature 28 exam rooms, X-ray, triage and laboratory and conference space to accommodate training require-ments of the new osteopathic medical college. The clinic will house eight physicians, three advance practice nurses and about 30 support co-workers. The college is expected to enroll its first class fall 2017. Mercy Fort Smith also has been approved to offer two physician residency positions in fall of 2018 or 2019.

Fort Smith’s Cooper Clinic is the largest physician-owned multi-specialty group in Arkansas. Founded in 1920 the clinic has doctors in 25 specialties and subspecialties practicing in 16 locations. In addition to MRI and PET, 4D Cardiac Echo, lower-radiation CT, and Bilateral Breast MRI are among the diagnostic tools available to Cooper Clinic patients.

Fort Smith is also home to UAMS West, one of eight regional centers of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. UAMS West has a family medicine residency program and offers community education and outreach programs.

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith graduates hundreds of health-care workers in the area each year. Medical career programs at UAFS include dental hygiene, nursing, nursing technology, radiography, respiratory care and surgical technology.

Fort Smith cares for children at its neonatal ICU, Bost Inc., and the Gregory Kistler Treatment Center, which hopes to provide an opportunity for all children to lead full, productive lives with the assistance of occupational, speech-language and physical therapy.

The Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House offers education, encouragement and hope to cancer survivors at any point in their journey.

Health care is big business in the greater Fort Smith Region, accounting for 20,000 jobs. Numerous medical facilities are top employers in the region, including Area Agency on Aging, Bost, Cooper Clinic, Mercy Health System and Sparks Health System.