Arkansas Children's Northwest sees thousands of patients months after opening

NWA Democrat-Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Barrett Diebold talks Friday about his experience as a recent patient at Arkansas Children's Northwest at the John Q. Hammons center in Rogers. "It's great to know that, in our backyard, we get the same level of world-class treatment," Sparks-Diebold said. It's also nice to have around in case a graver health need comes up, said Sarah Sparks-Diebold, his mother.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Barrett Diebold talks Friday about his experience as a recent patient at Arkansas Children's Northwest at the John Q. Hammons center in Rogers. "It's great to know that, in our backyard, we get the same level of world-class treatment," Sparks-Diebold said. It's also nice to have around in case a graver health need comes up, said Sarah Sparks-Diebold, his mother.

SPRINGDALE -- About 2,200 children each month have received care at Arkansas Children's Northwest since it fully opened early this year, the hospital's chief executive officer said Friday.

CEO Marcy Doderer said health care at the hospital is going so well officials can turn some of their attention to how to make the facility bigger and better, perhaps by adding more full-time and local specialists and expanding outpatient services in the next year or two. The hospital in Springdale offers surgery, emergency and other services for patients up to age 21.

Arkansas Children’s Northwest

Location: 2601 Gene George Blvd., Springdale

Contact: (479) 725-6800

It's nice to have the hospital up and running, Doderer said.

"We're becoming a real community resource," she said. "It's so fun to be here and be open instead of saying, 'We plan on doing,'" she added, a reference to the series of fundraising events and announcements and construction milestones in the years leading up to the opening.

Doderer spoke Friday morning as Arkansas Children's Will Golf 4 Kids tournament wrapped up in Bella Vista and hours before the evening Color of Hope Gala in Rogers. Doderer said the two events together are the hospital's biggest fundraiser. All money raised goes to the Northwest Arkansas hospital.

The facility opened in stages as it received various state licenses and approvals, first offering outpatient services in January and bringing more online in March. It was Arkansas Children's biggest step into the northwest part of the state, replacing an outpatient clinic in Lowell.

Barrett Diebold, a tennis player and new freshman at Fayetteville High School, is among the thousands of patients who've visited the hospital. Barrett said one weekend about a month ago a misjudged leap for a particularly high ball led to a rolled ankle and a ligament strain.

His mother, Sarah Sparks-Diebold, recalled taking Barrett to Arkansas Children's main hospital in Little Rock when he was a child for a serious esophagus disorder, so she drove him right to the Springdale location's emergency department.

"It's great to know that, in our backyard, we get the same level of world-class treatment," Sparks-Diebold said. It's also nice to have around in case a graver health need comes up, she added. Her trips to Little Rock years ago happened almost weekly for nine months with occasional overnight visits.

Patients needing intensive care still must go to Little Rock, Doderer noted -- around 100 patients so far have been driven or flown to Little Rock so far. But follow-ups and other continuing care, such as chemotherapy treatments for cancer, can happen in Springdale. The roughly 230,000-square-foot Springdale hospital includes 24 inpatient beds.

The site just off Interstate 49 near Arvest Ballpark has room to expand. Doderer said any growth is likely at least a year off, but one of the first priorities will be expanding outpatient services.

The hospital is fully staffed with almost 300 physicians, nurses and other caregivers, including specialists in cardiology, neurology and other areas who live and work in Northwest Arkansas full time. Doderer said it's still recruiting for a few more specialists, particularly digestive system and endocrinology, which focuses on hormones and related disorders such as diabetes.

Arkansas Children's presence has meant other changes for the region besides its staff and patients.

Mercy Northwest Arkansas, Northwest Health and Washington Regional Medical Center officials said they'd seen a slight dip in some types of emergency department visits since the children's hospital opened. Pediatric emergency visits to Washington Regional in June were down about 9 percent from the same month the year before, for example, though total visits were about the same.

The drop could be a negative for other hospitals because of less revenue, but it could also free time and space for other emergency department patients. That's something several health systems have tried to accomplish partly by opening urgent care clinics for cases that need immediate attention but aren't life-or-death, such as stings or fevers.

Mark Bever, executive vice president and administrator for Washington Regional, said Arkansas Children's hasn't been around long enough to know its impact for sure, but it's a welcome addition to the region.

"We know there is a great need across Northwest Arkansas for primary care providers and specialists for people of all ages," Mercy Hospital President Eric Pianalto said in an email, adding the system is working to meet that need through building new clinics and facilities and bringing on new care providers, including in pediatrics.

Northwest shuttered its pediatric department at its Bentonville medical center to make room for more adult beds and cited the children's hospital as one reason for the change.

Arkansas Children's Northwest also provides a new training ground for the local pediatric field. Doderer said some third- and fourth-year medical students at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences rotate through the hospital, and some university faculty treat there. She's talking with Northwest Arkansas Community College about connecting with its nursing and other medical programs.

A possibility that hasn't yet been realized is residency slots for doctors who have graduated from medical school but need training in a hospital setting. That will need more conversations and planning to happen, leaders at the university and hospital said.

NW News on 08/04/2018