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Fowler Foods President Chris Fowler knows what it's like having to travel across the state to take advantage of the services offered at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

Since receiving a cochlear implant at the Little Rock hospital in 2013, the chief of the Jonesboro-based restaurant franchise company has made regular trips from his hometown to the capital city for visits with an audiologist and speech therapist.

Implanting the devices, which convert sounds into electronic signals for the deaf or severely hard of hearing, is among a handful of services the pediatric hospital offers to adults because of a lack of other providers in the state.

"It's really a process of learning how to hear and speak all over again," Fowler said.

Fewer patients will have to make such trips after an expansion of the hospital's Jonesboro Clinic is completed next year.

Announced Thursday, the project became possible after the hospital bought the building that houses the clinic in June with a $750,000 gift from Fowler and his wife, Kim, who is on the board of the hospital's foundation.

The hospital will use its own funds to expand the clinic to the entire 8,000-square-foot building, across the street from St. Bernards Medical Center, and renovate the space, hospital Chief Executive Officer Marcy Doderer said.

The half of the building not currently occupied by the clinic has been vacant since the clinic opened in 2012, she said.

Owning the building "allows us to do what we want to and really incorporate all the space into a more cohesive, well-organized clinic for the kids," Doderer said.

The clinic currently has a full-time neurologist as well as a nurse, an electroencephalogram technician and a patient-information assistant, Ann Kruger, the hospital's vice president of ambulatory services, said in an email.

Visiting physicians and other providers also offer care in cardiology, urology, genetics, surgery and ear, nose and throat conditions, she said.

The expansion will allow the clinic to add a full-time cardiologist and audiologist and offer other services through telemedicine and visiting specialists.

It also will provide space for speech, occupational and physical therapy, and expand a diagnostic center, created with a $250,000 gift from the Fowlers in 2015, to include more audiology services and testing for lung disorders, Kruger said.

The Fowlers are "really committed to making sure we bring the specialists to the kids instead of vice versa," said Rick Barr, the hospital's pediatrician-in-chief and chairman of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2,447 patients visited the clinic, which saves patients more than 100,000 hours of travel time each year, according to the hospital.

Work on the expansion will start in January and should be finished in less than a year, Doderer said.

To make its services more accessible, in recent years the hospital has established a Springdale campus and clinics in west and southwest Little Rock.

Standing next to his wife at a news conference Thursday outside the Jonesboro clinic, Fowler said his youngest son, then just 8 weeks old, had surgery at the Little Rock hospital 19 years ago. His youngest daughter and a niece also have been patients, he said.

"We're very pleased to be here to help the children of Jonesboro and northeast Arkansas and the staff of Children's Hospital," Chris Fowler said. "You guys and gals do an incredible job, not only for the children of Arkansas but for the Mid-South."

Metro on 08/10/2018

Print Headline: $750,000 gift aids project at clinic

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