Conway Regional Health System’s decision to add nearly a dozen doctors last year seems to be paying off as the system continues growing.
“Adding new physicians has given us the opportunity to extend services out to the community,” said Matt Troup, the health system’s president and CEO.
Conway Regional added 11 doctors last year: a general surgeon, a cardiologist, a pulmonologist, four hospitalists, two pain management physicians, an emergency room physician and an OB-GYN.
Those additional physicians are treating patients in Conway Regional’s locations, which include Clinton, Dardanelle, Morrilton and Russellville.
One of Conway Regional’s goals is to do more outreach and “try to keep care in the communities we serve,” Troup said. “And that’s been very successful for us and a good thing for the communities.”
Conway Regional also is bringing residents into its system. Conway Regional started its family residency program in July 2020, and in July 2022 it will launch its internal medicine program. Conway Regional also received a $750,000 grant from the Health Resources & Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, to start a rural residency. That program will begin in July 2023.
Conway Regional will have a total of 33 residency slots when it reaches full capacity.
The health system has been inundated with residency applications. Last year, it received about 750 applications and this year it received 1,000 — for four slots.
The residency program is expected to attract physicians to the area, because once residents complete their residency, they typically stick around to practice.
The rural residency program includes Dardanelle, where Conway Regional operates Dardanelle Regional Medical Center.
“Like every small hospital, what it really needs is good primary care,” Troup said. “And so this is going to allow us to build a base of primary care that will be able to support that hospital in that community.”
COVID-19 upended health care organizations, including Conway Regional.
In April 2020, at the start of the pandemic, its net revenue was down about 40% from the same month in 2019, as government regulators put a hold on scheduled procedures. Still, Conway Regional ended 2020 with net patient revenue of $193.2 million and income of $4.4 million, according to unaudited figures provided by the hospital. In 2019, it had $193 million in net patient revenue and income of $12.6 million.
Troup told Arkansas Business late last month that patients are returning, but the emergency room is at about 95% of its pre-pandemic volume. Other clinic visits also have started to trend back to normal, he said.
During the pandemic, Conway Regional didn’t lay off any of its 1,700 employees. Instead, some employees were shifted to new jobs, jobs that included telemedicine. Other employees worked in a call center for COVID-19 questions or staffed a drive-through testing service.
After the pandemic, telemedicine will continue to be a part of Conway Regional’s service line as about 20% of its primary care visits are done by video, Troup said. “We’re really pleased that that has continued,” Troup said. “10 years from now, if we look back on the story of COVID, it’ll really be the dawn of telemedicine.”
And while telemedicine can’t replace in-person visits, it makes it easier for patients who need to check in with their doctor for something like a chronic condition.
Conway Regional did have a challenging time operating Dardanelle Regional Medical Center.
It began managing the 25-bed hospital, formerly known as River Valley Medical Center, on June 1, 2019. “The day the levee broke was our first day as operators there,” Troup said, referring to the Dardanelle Levee’s failure during record Arkansas River flooding. “And then a short time later, we had to deal with COVID.”
Still, Conway Regional is working to enter into a long-term lease agreement with Yell County and hopes to have that ironed out during the summer.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” Troup said.