Larry Shackelford: Health care industry ripe for expansion in NWA
According to the Northwest Arkansas Council, about 7 percent of jobs in Northwest Arkansas are in the health care industry.
For such a growing and vibrant region, that’s not near enough, says Larry Shackelford, president and CEO of Fayetteville’s Washington Regional Medical System. The percentage is higher in peer regions that have taken intentional steps to grow their health care economies, he notes.
“Northwest Arkansas must either catch up or lose ground to competing regions as it joins the nation’s largest metropolitan areas,” he says. “The region is well positioned to focus on eliminating what has been estimated at almost $1 billion that leaves the region due to out-migration. With demand for health care continuing to grow with an aging population, advancing technology and an increasing number of residents, there is significant opportunity for growth in Northwest Arkansas.”
Washington Regional’s ongoing $73 million expansion, scheduled for completion later this year, will help expand access and increase the local job pool. Operational capacity is being increased in surgical services, cardiac services and neurological services, and a new cardiology nursing unit is being added. It will provide not only extra beds but add new laboratory technology and capacity, Shackelford says.
Attracting new doctors to meet the needs of the growing population remains a priority, and Washington Regional is recruiting new primary care physicians and specialists as well as expanding its graduate medical education opportunities.
Digital medicine will continue to play a more prominent role in the way patients are treated, Shackelford says. “One of the opportunities to meet challenges of limited capacity across a large geography include utilization of digital medicine, and we continue to partner with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to expand both electronic visits and distance medicine in Northwest Arkansas.”
In addition, Washington Regional recently became the first Arkansas recipient outside of Little Rock of comprehensive stroke certification by the Joint Commission. Shackelford says the system will continue to grow and expand its Neuroscience Institute.
“Washington Regional will continue to pursue the vision to be the best place to give care, and the best place to receive care in our region,” he says.