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Alice Walton, Cleveland Clinic Aim to Bring Specialty Care to Northwest Arkansas

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The Alice L. Walton Foundation and the Cleveland Clinic said Monday that they’re collaborating on ways to provide access to the academic medical center’s specialty care services in northwest Arkansas.

In a news release, the organizations said they will “assess specialty care needs in the region and develop recommendations” for health care services to meet those needs.

“As northwest Arkansas continues to grow, it’s imperative that we increase access to specialty care in our region, so residents don’t have to travel elsewhere for care they could receive closer to home,” Walton said. 

“I’ve long admired Cleveland Clinic’s innovative approach to care that is aimed at elevating the well-being of the community with a system for lifelong health. Our goal with this collaboration to assess the specialty care needs of our region is to investigate how to make a transformative approach to health and well-being available to everyone.”

The move comes a few months after the Walmart Inc. heiress and philanthropist announced plans to build a medical school in northwest Arkansas. Walton’s nonprofit Whole Health Institute aims to break ground next year on the Whole Health School of Medicine, “a new state-of-the-art education and training facility in Bentonville” that would begin taking students in 2024.

The school is one piece of a larger push to expand health care options in fast-growing Benton and Washington counties, where major public companies like Walmart of Bentonville, Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell; their vendors; and the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus attract thousands of new residents per year.

The health care industry in the two counties generates $2.7 billion in activity annually, but that figure could be much higher, according to a study done by the Northwest Arkansas Council in 2019. The council is a nonprofit organization made up of leaders from the business, academic and government sectors.

Arkansas Business reported in April that the region loses about $950 million annually in what is called outmigration, residents seeking medical care elsewhere. The report said northwest Arkansas needed to create 200 residency programs and add 6,000 jobs in the health care sector.

Regional leaders expect Walton’s Whole Health School of Medicine to be an important player in their efforts to bolster the area’s health care infrastructure. Walton said she looks forward to working with the clinic.

“Our thriving region has always had a culture of collaboration and focus on serving the community’s needs,” she said. “As we grow and welcome new residents daily, we will all benefit from increased access to excellent and innovative care.”

“At Cleveland Clinic, our purpose is caring for others,” Cleveland Clinic President and CEO Tom Mihaljevic said. “We believe it is our responsibility to provide more patients with access to Cleveland Clinic’s safe, quality and compassionate care. The Alice L. Walton Foundation shares this commitment to serving others, and we are pleased to work together in support of the northwest Arkansas community.”

The 100-year-old Cleveland Clinic offers “a team-based, physician-led model of care centered around the patient.” Based in Cleveland, the clinic has locations in Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Toronto and Abu Dhabi. A new center is scheduled to open in 2022 in London.

According to the latest U.S. Census data, Benton County had the state’s fastest growth, with its population increasing by 28.5% since 2010 to 284,333. The second fastest growing, Washington County, saw its population increase by about 21% to 245,871.

In all, the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan area grew by 24.2% to 546,725. And Fayetteville surpassed Fort Smith to be the state’s second largest city, behind Little Rock.

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