More than two years ago, the Medical Center of South Arkansas in El Dorado took a look at itself and its future and decided it needed to change.
“Decades ago, El Dorado was quite a health care hub,” said Scott Street, chief executive officer of the Medical Center. “Two hospitals — Warner Brown sits empty today, and this organization, built in ’63.
“Today, we are a victim of out-migration, and that happens in a lot of communities. It happened in Conway over time, but they’ve been able to bounce back and become somewhat of a destination,” he said. “We’re trying to do the same thing Conway did, with this health care focus.”
The hospital board, doctors and community leaders created a vision, “Destination Health Care,” with the goal of attracting patients, doctors and other health care workers to the 166-bed acute-care hospital owned by Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tennessee.
To achieve that goal, MCSA is offering new services, including a family medicine residency program in partnership with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, and new subspecialties.
The new services also include a cancer center to be housed in a new $10 million to $12 million medical office building whose groundbreaking is scheduled for this month. MCSA is joining with Landmark Cancer Centers of Grapevine, Texas, to operate the cancer center.
It’s all part of a capital infusion of $17 million-plus that the institution has undertaken to keep people in El Dorado. That means attracting patients to MCSA for their health needs so they don’t have to drive two hours to Little Rock, and keeping them as patients because they’re happy with their care.
And it means attracting doctors to the Medical Center and retaining them because they can see how they make a difference in the lives of their patients and in their communities. It means demonstrating to doctors that they have the opportunity to practice the full spectrum of health care in a rural setting.
“We’re well into moving in the right direction,” said Street, who has been at MCSA for three years. “We’re seeing a much higher volume today, which is a positive thing for us.”
The Medical Center of South Arkansas, which has more than 700 employees, reported net income of $8.86 million in 2019 on net patient revenue of $102.68 million and an occupancy rate of 67%.
Alliances Are Key
MCSA also has entered into several alliances with other health care providers in Arkansas, such as Arkansas Heart Hospital, Arkansas Urology and Arkansas Children’s Hospital, all in Little Rock, in its effort to expand its services and keep patients and doctors close to home.
One example is MCSA’s partnership with the Heart Hospital, allowing the Medical Center to provide interventional cardiology and other procedures that cardiac patients previously would have had to journey to Little Rock or elsewhere to obtain. MCSA and the Heart Hospital split the salary of the interventional cardiologist, who lives and spends most of his work days in El Dorado.
“We’re partnering with those that believe in our vision,” Street said. “I think that’s key.” MCSA doesn’t want to partner with a provider whose only goal is “to come here and drag patients to Little Rock or Shreveport or other larger cities.”
Arkansas Urology will have a presence in MCSA’s new 50,000-SF medical office building. “That’s a little of a looser affiliation,” Street said. “But we’re recruiting jointly for a urologist here in El Dorado.” Dr. Caleb Bozeman of Arkansas Urology is currently providing urology services in the south Arkansas city. “But we need up to two more urologists in the market,” Street said.
The Medical Center of South Arkansas has been intentional in its efforts to form alliances with health care providers that Street describes as “the biggest and the best in Arkansas.” There are two reasons for this. The first is the quality of care. And the second is that such partnerships increase MCSA’s ability to recruit talent to the hospital.
“Partnering with these larger and best-in-class practices, the recruitment, your chances of bringing in those specialties are multiplied,” he said.
The new medical office building, which will be built on the MCSA campus at 700 W. Grove St., will also house a new three-year family medicine residency program that UAMS is establishing in partnership with MCSA, as well as a regional clinic.
UAMS plans to open the clinic associated with the residency program in January 2022, said Amy Wenger, vice chancellor of UAMS regional campuses. The clinic will occupy 18,000 SF on the second floor and part of the third floor. The first residents should begin training in July 2023, with a goal of training 12 residents — four residents each year in three classes.
These residents will also be training at MCSA, getting experience with inpatient care.
“Data shows us that physicians are more likely to live and practice in the community or the general area or state where they’ve completed their residency training,” Wenger said. “We just feel really strongly that the graduates of the family medicine program in El Dorado will really like the community and they’ll end up staying.”
That is certainly Street’s hope. The residency program “creates a pipeline of primary care providers,” he said. Such a pipeline is needed now more than ever because many doctors on the MCSA staff are nearing retirement, a phenomenon particularly acute in rural areas.
The city of El Dorado sustained a shock in May when Murphy Oil Corp., citing “the extraordinary drop in crude oil prices,” announced that it was closing its 86,000-SF El Dorado headquarters office, home to 82 employees, along with an office in Canada, and consolidating its headquarters to an office in Houston.
A couple of years before that, in 2017, Deltic Timber Corp. of El Dorado had announced it was merging with Potlatch Corp. of Spokane, Washington, to form PotlatchDeltic. That company is headquartered in Spokane but maintains an operational headquarters in El Dorado.
The city remains the headquarters of Murphy USA, which has about 750 employees there.
“At the end of the day, El Dorado is a bright spot in south Arkansas,” Street said. He cited support for the city from Murphy USA and the timber companies doing business there. Corporate support helped create the Murphy Arts District. The downtown is vibrant.
These are amenities that might attract doctors and other health care workers, that might, in fact, keep them in El Dorado. “It is a unique setting,” Street said.