The Medical Center of South Arkansas in El Dorado will become a UAMS regional campus called South Arkansas Regional Hospital. (Courtesy photo)
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will adapt the hospital in El Dorado into its ninth regional campus to train young medical professionals, the institution announced Monday in a press release.
The former Medical Center of South Arkansas will be called the South Arkansas Regional Hospital, sharing its name with the local nonprofit that acquired the hospital and all its related businesses in April.
UAMS will develop a residency program at the hospital with an emphasis on family medicine, said Dr. Stephanie Gardner, the university’s provost and chief strategy officer.
Gardner said medical residents are likely to remain in the areas where they complete their residencies.
“The mere fact that we’ll be adding health care professionals within that clinic hopefully will increase access to care in South Arkansas,” she said. “We have one of the highest rates of primary care residents remaining in-state [long-term] of any state in the country, and we know there’s a shortage of primary care providers. In a very rural state, it’s critically important.”
Shortly after South Arkansas Regional Hospital acquired the Medical Center of South Arkansas, state lawmakers introduced and passed legislation that directed $12 million from the state’s restricted reserve fund to the nonprofit. The money will cover the nonprofit’s acquisition expenses and the extension of health care services in the region, according to the press release.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the appropriations bill into law, and the money will be available at the beginning of August.
Gardner called the funding “an enormous commitment from the state to public health in South Arkansas.”
UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson credited House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, in the press release for helping to secure the $12 million.
“As we emerged from the health crisis in 2020, lawmakers and the public were reminded once again of the importance of local hospitals and patient care,” Shepherd said in a separate press release from South Arkansas Regional Hospital. “…From providing emergency care to helping expecting parents, these funds will go a long way in improving lives in South Arkansas.”
UAMS aims to start the El Dorado residency program in mid-2025. The university has hired a residency director and will hire doctors and a nurse to staff the program, Gardner said.
At least one UAMS physician will start seeing patients at the hospital this summer, and more will do so by the end of this year, she said.
The Medical Center of South Arkansas currently has 166 beds. Gardner said it is too soon to know whether UAMS will add more beds or what specific specialty areas the partnership can enhance at the facility.
The UAMS-affiliated AR Health Ventures, a nonprofit that helps new healthcare projects get off the ground, is one of the four entities within the South Arkansas Regional Hospital nonprofit.
The other three entities are local to El Dorado and focus on community health: the Murphy Foundation, the Murphy USA Charitable Foundation and the SHARE Foundation.
The eight existing UAMS regional campuses are in Batesville, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Helena-West Helena, Jonesboro, Magnolia, Pine Bluff and Texarkana. Most of them focus on family medicine, according to the UAMS website.
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