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Northwest Arkansas Health - Hospitals, Medical School and more!

Posted: July 25, 2010 at 5:06 a.m.

Health advocates in Northwest Arkansas have worked for years to increase medical-care offerings while keeping pace with rapid population growth.

As a result, the area now offers a variety of general, acute-care hospitals operated by nonprofit and for-profit owners, as well as a veterans hospital, some newer specialty hospitals, clinics serving the low-income and uninsured, and a recent increase in mental health services.

There has also been a big push to increase the number of bilingual health workers for non-English speakers — particularly the region’s Hispanic and Marshallese populations.

The state’s only medical school, the Little Rock-based University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, has begun a satellite program in Northwest Arkansas.

Ideally, resident physicians, medical students, nursing students and other health-care workers not only will study here, but will stay and work in the area after graduation.

The presence of the satellite campus also figures to increase access to more highly specialized care than is now available in the once-rural area.

Northwest Arkansas residents who don’t earn a lot and lack health insurance have the option of being treated at the former Community Clinic at St. Francis House in Springdale.

Now called Community Clinic Springdale Medical, the federally qualified health center in recent years has used its grant-seeking authority to open additional medical and dental facilities and, in one case, take over a floundering charity-based clinic.

The system also includes Community Clinic Rogers Medical, Community Clinic Siloam Springs Medical, Community Clinic Springdale Dental and Community Clinic Rogers Dental.

“There’s nobody we would turn away,” said Kathy Grisham, executive director. If specialty care was needed outside the clinics’ capabilities, workers would help a patient find treatment.

“We are a community health center that serves as a medical home for low-income patients, offering a sliding-fee discount based on federal poverty guidelines — household income and family size,” said Grisham, adding that the guidelines change constantly.

The clinics accept Medicaid, ARKids First (the state’s Medicaid program for children), Medicare and private insurance, and the sliding fee applies to those with and without insurance, she said.

In the past two years, the number of patients seen has roughly doubled, Grisham said.

“Bilingual staff offer culturally appropriate care,” she said. This includes bilingual nurses as well as medical assistants trained in medical interpreting or translation.

On May 26, the Springdale clinic showcased its newly remodeled headquarters, a project that added eight more exam rooms and reconfigured the layout to streamline patient flow.

Federal stimulus money and state tobacco-tax legislation helped fund the renovation.

Hospitals

General-care hospitals are numerous in Northwest Arkansas, the three largest being Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, Northwest Medical Center-Springdale and Mercy Medical Center in Rogers (formerly St. Mary’s Hospital). All three also work with networks of medical clinics.

Washington Regional formerly was county-owned but now is nonprofit.

Northwest Health System’s parent company is Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. In addition to the Springdale facility, Northwest Health also operates two newer hospitals — Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville and Willow Creek Women’s Hospital in Johnson.

The nonprofit Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas is part of the Sisters of Mercy Health System of St. Louis.

Kyle Weaver, spokesman for the Northwest Arkansas branch, said the Rogers hospital offers a convenient-care clinic, which is popular with newcomers.

The Mercy Convenient Care Clinic is “a practical alternative to the emergency room” for less-serious conditions that nonetheless are too urgent to wait, he said. These include flu, fever, coughs and colds and skin rashes, along with strains, sprains and other minor injuries.

Spokesmen for all three systems said their websites offer physician and/or clinic directories.

This gives patients trying to find a doctor — or something more specific, like doctors who accept new Medicare patients — some extra help beyond the phone book.

Navigating the doctors

Weaver suggested the “Mercy Doctor Finder” at (888) 338-3885. A live staff person answers during regular hours and an answering-service handles after-hours calls.

The hospital also has an online directory of physicians and clinics that can be downloaded at www.mercy4u.com/Physicians/ProviderDirectory.pdf.

Washington Regional’s Terry Fox said the system just updated its website, available at www.wregional.com.

“There is a ton of information on there,” she said, including a directory of physicians.

Northwest Health’s spokesman, Pat Driscoll, said its services include a chest-pain center that aims to reduce delays in treatment and a sports medicine clinic with certified trainers.

The hospital’s ‘find a physician’ line is (800) 734-2024. The cardiology call center line is (877) 404-3278.

Veterans services

Fayetteville is one of just three Arkansas cities — the others are Little Rock and North Little Rock — with a veterans hospital operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Formerly known as the Veterans Administration Medical Center, the facility is now named Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks.

The name reflects that it is a hospital and a network of clinics. Its coverage area includes Northwest Arkansas as well as parts of Oklahoma and Missouri.

Mental health

In April 2002, the area lost a critical service for acutely ill mental patients when Northwest Medical Center-Springdale closed Highland Hall, a 20-bed psychiatric unit.

That set off a seven-year quest among mental health advocates, government officials and others to fill that void.

It culminated in the creation of the Behavioral Health Unit, which opened in spring 2009 at the Springdale hospital, which this time partnered with the mental health expertise of UAMS’ satellite campus and Ozark Guidance Center of Springdale. They were joined by other community partners and hospitals in making this crisis wing of 28 beds and outpatient services combination more of a regional effort.

That same year, the private, for-profit Springwoods Behavioral Health opened an 80-bed unit in Fayetteville. It joined the existing, private, for-profit Vista Health’s 92 beds. Each of the three serve a different clientele of various age groups and ability to pay.

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