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recounting the journey of nea baptist clinic
by Kerri Bennett, photo courtesy of NEA Baptist Clinic

What began as a dream discussed over lunch at the UAMS cafeteria now stands in gleaming reality 36 years later, thanks to the determination of Dr. Ray Hall Jr. and a team of medical professionals dedicated to innovating healthcare in northeast Arkansas.

In his newly released book From Vision to Reality: The Evolution of NEA Baptist Clinic, Hall recounts his journey as an internist as well as the journey the clinic has experienced since it began as his solo practice in 1977. When Hall then partnered with Drs. Michael Mackey, Harry Jordan, Robert Taylor, Michael Hightower and Stephen Woodruff, the Northeast Arkansas Internal Medicine
Clinic was born – a healthcare system they hoped would eventually become similar to the Mayo Clinic.

“I started the clinic with the goal of assembling a group of top notch, university trained, board certified internists to create a medical specialty clinic (with both generalists and sub-specialists) to serve Jonesboro and the surrounding region,” he explained. “Later on, it became obvious that a multispecialty configuration
(composed of internists, family practitioners, obstetricians and gynecologists, pediatricians, and various types of surgeons, as well as radiologists) was the most efficient and coordinated model for the provision of quality healthcare.”

The clinic has seen many changes throughout the past three decades in terms of facilities, ownership, staff, and even name, but at its core, Hall believes its mission has remained the same.

“Today, the NEA Baptist Clinic is very close to offering a complete array of services to our patients. With approximately 130 providers, our diverse physician panel is virtually complete, although there is never really an end point to the recruiting process. With unequaled facilities, a fine support staff, state of the art technology and a focused commitment to quality care, our organization has exceeded my early expectations,” Hall said. Hall is most pleased with the positive impact the clinic has had on the community of northeast Arkansas. “In retrospect, one of the things I am most proud of is that the clinic has attracted and retained an outstanding group of individuals who have ‘bought in’ to the vision and have elevated the quality of healthcare in Jonesboro and this region and simultaneously enhanced the growth of this community.

“Examples are easily recognized and include the new medical school at ASU, which will open in the fall of 2016, the Fowler Family Center for Cancer Care at NEA Baptist and the hundreds of new jobs that have been created,” he said. “Recently, an article appeared in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette referring to the ‘Jonesboro Miracle.’ We are often reminded that every new physician who chooses to locate in Jonesboro is in essence a new industry and creates an economic ripple effect.”

And though the clinic currently enjoys a successful partnership with Baptist
Memorial Healthcare System, it was once part of a failing physicians’ group called PhyCor.

According to Hall, the clinic, “like most other dynamic organizations,
experienced significant challenges along the way. I believe that successfully
overcoming those adversities was a product of a strong culture, solidarity of purpose and a commitment to each other. This differentiated us from many other clinics that developed in the PhyCor era. Over time, the clinic has become stronger and even more committed to its mission.”

The commitment of Hall and the clinic to their mission of serving the community is evidenced in the NEA Baptist Clinic Charitable Foundation, which came into being 15 years ago.

The foundation is essentially one of the first of its kind in the nation, Hall said, and is the winner of the American College of Physicians Edward Loveland Award. The foundation “demonstrates our dedication to our Christian philosophy of helping our fellow man – beyond what we provide in the exam room, the operating room and in the emergency room,” which is something he termed a “personal source of immense pride” because it “impacts so many lives in so many ways.”

Proceeds from Hall’s book will benefit NEA Baptist Clinic Charitable Foundation.
The impetus for writing came to Hall when he was off work after back surgery
about two years ago.

“I want everyone who reads the book to realize that a wonderful group
of dedicated physicians and staff came together, shared a vision, worked hard
and endured some difficult challenges,” he said. “In the end, they persevered,
creating a unique organization whose ultimate goal is to provide comprehensive,
compassionate quality care to the people we treat. A new generation of clinic doctors is beginning their practice legacies at NEA Baptist Clinic. I want them to have an understanding and an appreciation of the organization’s history to enable them to sustain the mission of its founders.”