Conway’s current health care landscape is characterized by more players entering the market, providing additional capacity within city limits and expanding and enhancing services here and in surrounding communities.
“We have spent a considerable amount of money internally updating and upgrading our facilities and infrastructure,” said Matt Troup, president and CEO of Conway Regional Medical Center. “And, with the current emphasis on population health, I’d anticipate a lot of our future capital being spent in developing additional access points which emphasize the ‘regional’ portion of our name.”
In addition to its flagship, 154-bed acute care medical center featuring a 12-bed ICU/cardiac unit, women’s center and nationally-recognized laboratory, Conway Regional operates clinics in Clinton, Mayflower, Greenbrier and Vilonia as well as in Conway itself. Troup said the economic connection among these communities is growing.
“We’ve really seen, within the last year, the pull from North Little Rock at the southern portion of our area, the pull from the south in Maumelle,” he said. “We think that’s due to the fact that a lot of people that live in these parts of the state work in Conway and so instead of seeing these communities going to Little Rock for work, the economic development that’s occurred here is creating the reverse trend in traffic.”
Having representation in many of Conway’s feeder communities ultimately funnels to the health system’s main campus. Anecdotally speaking, Troup said there appears to be a trend for people increasingly seeking health care services where they work as often, if not more, than where they live.
Steadily increasing medical traffic has spurred competition, in particular growing urgent care clinics, a handful of which have opened in Conway in just the past year. Growth potential was also the linchpin for Baptist Health’s entering the community with a new, 264,000-SF, 111-bed hospital set to open this fall.
“Conway has continued to grow quite a bit over the years; that whole part of the state has developed quite nicely,” said Troy Wells, Baptist Health president and CEO. “When we studied the market prior to making the decision to build a hospital, we saw a continued growth pattern expected to take place there.
“[Between] current and future demand for health care services in that region of the state, the relationships we had established with the medical community and just the high growth of the area and the medical needs of the future it looked, after study, like a great place for us to make that kind of investment.”
Wells’ measured assessment of the area’s growth potential is underscored by U.S. Census data. Between 2000 and 2010, Conway’s population grew 36.5 percent to 58,908, growth that paced Faulkner County to a similar increase of 31.6 percent or 113,200. As reported in Arkansas 2020: Arkansas Population Projections and Demographic Characteristics for 2020, produced by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, growth projections predict the region to continue to grow at a rate of 1.47 percent annually.
In fact, the numbers are so bullish, Baptist amended the size of its project before construction even started, from the original specs of 216,000 SF and 96 beds. Wells said while Baptist obviously represents competition in the market, there’s evidence to suggest the new hospital’s immediate impact will merely help the community catch up to demand, bringing home patients currently going elsewhere for care.
“We continue to see demand increasing throughout our system related to certain medical services due to the aging of the population,” he said. “Orthopedics is probably the most obvious thing, cardiology is another one. Individuals are living longer, healthier and they’re active, so even with no population growth, we’re seeing demand for these services.
“Emergency services [is] another area that continues to grow throughout our existing health system, creating demand and capacity issues right now. We hope to provide yet one more place for people to access that doesn’t further congest our Little Rock and North Little Rock facilities.”
Having two hospitals also bodes well for the economic health of the community on a variety of fronts. Conway Regional employs 1,300 and Baptist Health will employ 500 once fully up to speed. Indirectly, the two organizations increase Conway’s attractiveness to companies looking to relocate, the employees those companies will recruit and even the local medical industry itself.
“Not only just here in Conway, but in historical experience, physicians considering an area really look for population growth among the highly insured,” Troup said. “The realities in the health care industry are that there is an offset of cost. The government, by their own estimation, tells us that hospitals and health care providers lose money on Medicaid and Medicare services, so very often we have to have a higher margin on some of these other populations.