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nea baptist health system's innovative new campus
by Audrey Hanes, photo by Amy Long

When NEA Baptist Health System opens its doors to patients later this month, it will usher in a new era in health care in Jonesboro and in Northeast Arkansas. The new, fully integrated medical campus will pave the way for a new kind of patient care, one where a combined NEA Baptist Clinic, NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital and the system’s new NEA Fowler Family Center for Cancer Care will work together in one convenient location that promises to be beneficial to both patients and the system’s health care professionals.

The $400 million project is Arkansas’ largest health care investment in the past decade, and at its core is the idea that a side-by-side clinic-hospital campus will allow doctors and patients to have easier access to all aspects of medical care. The new NEA Baptist Health System campus’ 765,703-square-foot building will house more than 1,500 employees and will offer care in heart, cancer, women’s, bariatric, neurology, orthopedics, plastic surgery, outpatient rehabilitation, emergency services and more.

“It makes the process easier for patients,” said Brad Parsons, administrator and CEO of NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital of the opportunity to build an integrated facility that reflects health care in the 21st century. “This is the right project at the right time for Jonesboro, because this is a project that could only be done in a community that’s growing. We are definitely benefitting from the growth of our region, and that’s exciting for Northeast Arkansas and exciting for Jonesboro.

“A project of this magnitude will only help that growth, as well. … I think our community has been very supportive, and I think when they see this model in action, they will really see the benefits.”

Dirt work on the 76-acre campus began in June 2010, with construction beginning on April 1, 2011. It was designed by Nashville architectural firm Earl Swensson Associates Inc., an award-winning company that is well known for its work in health care. The project’s general contractor, Hoar Construction, is known as one of the top health care contractors in the country, as well.

At its peak, the construction project employed more than 700 construction workers.
“There was a need for a new physical structure,” said Darrell King, NEA Baptist Clinic CEO. “Today … we’re scattered out all over town. Sometimes that requires the patient to go over here for this and over there for that. And so, for the specialty care and testing and things like that, it made sense to have that all in one place.

“We still keep our primary care clinics, family practice and urgent cares in the community so people have easy access to those; most everything else we were able to consolidate into one site for the convenience of the patient.”

King hopes the new campus and the physicians’ easy access to the hospital will allow them to spend more time in the clinic rather than driving back and forth to various locations.

In addition to the health care system itself, the new campus has had a substantial economic impact on the city of Jonesboro.

“I think that our community is already a destination for health care, and I think that it will continue to grow,” said Parsons. “And so, for a lot of reasons, health care is being regionalized, and Northeast Arkansas really comes to Jonesboro for health care; I think that it extends our reach in that area.

“People come into town to shop, and they come into town for restaurants, and they also come into town for their health care needs. … We still have a very steep growth curve. We are still very much growing as an organization. We estimate … $50 million in retail development in and around the new campus already, and that number only continues to go up. The impact of East Johnson as you go north is really impressive – what’s happened and what will happen in the years to come.”

King notes that NEA Baptist Health System’s new campus has created 500 new jobs in Jonesboro, including 30 physicians who have been recruited over a three-year time period.

“I’ve been here since 2007, and the change has been tremendous,” said King. “ … That’s great for the economy and great for Jonesboro. It’s just another reason for people to come here.”

Parsons and King both agree that the Jonesboro community and its city officials, not to mention each and every member of the NEA Baptist medical community, have all stepped up in a big way to support the new medical venture.

The Clinic
Plans for a new clinic began in 2009, not long after Baptist Memorial Healthcare decided to build a new hospital in Jonesboro. The clinic facility is more than 200,000 square feet and is the largest multi-specialty clinic in Northeast Arkansas with more than 100 physicians. At its helm is King with his 20-plus years of experience in managing multi-specialty physician practices.

A native of Jackson, Tenn., King received his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and his master’s of business administration from Union University. He began serving as the chief operating officer for NEA Clinic in 2007 and was named CEO of NEA Baptist Clinic in 2010.
“I just feel very blessed to be here at this time and be a part of this project,” said King. “I like what I do, and it’s going to be in a slightly different context now, but to be a part of this project has been a lot of fun. … I didn’t expect (this project) when I came here. When you step back and get beyond the work stuff, I feel like we’re really offering a service that people appreciate.

“I’ll be closer to the patients. … It’s good to remember what we do and why we do it. It becomes more of what it is, which is a ministry rather than just a job. When you’re more likely to interact with the people that your organization is taking care of, it becomes a little more real, I think.”

King says that from the health care professional aspect, he is most looking forward to the shared knowledge and teamwork that will undoubtedly be a direct result of physicians and other health care professionals interacting with one another on a day-to-day basis.

“The fact that we’re very much on the same team and working side-by-side with the hospital – the work that happens between the two is best for patient care and allows us to accomplish more physically in the same facility,” he said. “ … I’ve spent my whole career working with physician practices. I’m looking forward to being in the same facility with the physicians. This way, I’ll see them more frequently, which allows me to assist them and take care of their concerns right then. I’m looking forward to being a part of that community, the community that is NEA Baptist.”

More than 20 specialties and services will be housed at the new clinic, including cardiology, cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, ophthalmology, internal medicine, a hearing center, pain management, clinical research, interventional radiology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, endocrinology, the diabetes center, optometry, gastroenterology, general surgery, infectious disease, orthopedic surgery, nephrology, obstetrics and gynecology, podiatry, neurology, neurosurgery, otolaryngology (ENT), pediatrics, radiology, pulmonology and rheumatology.

“When you build something like this, you take such a step forward in what you’re able to offer, so you attract new physicians with new specialties,” said King. “It’s a very tangible thing to drive by the new campus and know that whatever service a person might need, they can get it there. It’s helped us already when it comes to recruiting physicians. We’ve had people from all over the country come in, and they’re really impressed. It allows us to recruit health care talent.”

With that health care talent comes new, innovative specialties and services that will now be available to NEA Baptist Health System’s patients. When it comes to heart care, for example, the system has hired a second cardiovascular surgeon, as well as two additional cardiologists. Kings says that because they all do things differently and in a way that compliments one other, new procedures will come from that interaction based on the latest in training.

“The end goal is to elevate the level of services and care offered here so that people don’t have to travel elsewhere,” said King. “We want them to feel like they can get any care that they might need here in Jonesboro. We really want to be able to provide those services here.”

The logistics of the move itself required countless hours of preparation. Although planning for the health clinic began in May 2009, the system didn’t find out the exact move date until several weeks before the move.

“I’ll only do this once; this is a once in a career transition,” said King. “It’s pretty daunting, but it’s exciting all at the same time because you know what’s coming. There’ll be some settling in. Looking at it on paper and doing mock moves – you can’t completely replicate what day one will look like. We’ll just have to be ready.”

King currently serves on the board of directors of the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce, the Chancellor’s Cabinet at Arkansas State University and the Physician and Hospital Advisory Council for U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford. He and his wife, Tracey, have two children, 18-year-old Kathryn and 16-year-old Will, and are members of Central Baptist Church.

The Hospital
To put it in perspective, the entire existing three-story NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital could fit into the ground level of the system’s new hospital on the new NEA Baptist Health System’s campus. While the task ahead might seem daunting, Parsons is ready to lead the hospital and the health care it’s responsible for into a new era under the roof of a new health care facility that was nearly four years in the making.

“This is a once in a career kind of event,” said Parsons.

“ … I’m really at a point right now of reminding myself and my team and our employees about savoring the moment, because this is a historic event for our health system and for our community.”

Parsons’ entire career has prepared him for this moment, as well. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Birmingham Southern College and his master’s degrees in hospital administration and business administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he gained valuable experience in both business and hospital support services. Parsons began his career with the Baptist medical family in 2008 and served as the administrator and CEO of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union City prior to becoming the administrator and CEO of NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in June 2012.

“The end result is, I think, even better than we all had hoped,” said Parsons of the new facility. “It’s so impressive and it offers the amenities that patients and families expect.”

The six-story, earthquake-resistant hospital boasts 181 beds and has available expansion space that will allow for 119 more. The hospital’s administration has made an effort to make those rooms – all of which are private – as homey as possible with perks such as sleeper sofas and 42-inch flat screen TVs in each one.

“It’s spaces that we don’t have today,” said Parsons of one aspect of the new NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital he is most looking forward to. “We don’t have adequate spaces for families to wait today. We don’t have adequate spaces to prepare patients for surgery today. We don’t have enough beds to put people in the kinds of settings that they need to be in. All of those things, we’ll have in the new facility, and that will only enhance the experience that patients have in our hospital.”

The new emergency department will triple in size and will feature 27 rooms, two of which are dedicated trauma rooms and four of which are dedicated heart care rooms that will have direct access to the cath lab and hybrid operating rooms. There will also be a dedicated decontamination room for industrial accidents.

Parsons is proud of the new NEA Baptist Women’s Center, as well. The hospital’s spacious labor and delivery rooms are located on the same floor as the nursery and the center’s C-section surgical suites, and as with other departments and specialties on the campus, the floor connects to the Women’s Health clinic for easy and quick physician transition.

“As health care moves forward, it’s important that the physician and the hospital are closely aligned in what’s happening to the patients, and so the physical structure really represents that in our building,” said Parsons. “It’s great for the patients because they can see that their doctor and their specialists are always close by. The efficiencies it creates for everyone involved is what makes it great. The care is efficient for our physicians – they can see patients in the clinic and walk down the hall and see patients in the hospital. That doesn’t exist in most places, and that’s one of the things that really sets us apart.”

Another aspect that Parsons hopes will set the hospital apart is its technology. The new NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital will feature one hybrid operating room with one additional such room planned for the future, a da Vinci Si surgical system, a linear accelerator, a 256 dual slice clash CT scanner, digital mammography, cath labs, MRI, an imaging center, stereotactic breast biopsy and more.

“We are very fortunate that 90 percent of our equipment will be brand new,” said Parsons. “So, not only do we have a brand new space to work in, but most of the equipment and technology that we’re infusing into the facility is brand new, state-of the art technology; we’re really excited about that.

“… The technology and the space that we’ll have in our operating rooms will allow us to grow a whole lot in surgery, in GYN oncology, in heart surgery – in all of our procedural areas really. … Our employees are training on that (technology) now. They’re out there every day learning that new equipment in preparation for patient care being done at our new campus.”

The hospital’s administrator and CEO is quick to praise the hospital’s leaders and employees for the challenges that go hand-in-hand with transitioning an entire hospital.

“I continue to be impressed with … all of our leaders; we have a busy hospital today and they have continued to manage their busy departments today as they prepare for a new, bigger department in the future,” said Parsons. “Our managers and our directors at the hospital have done a tremendous job. I’m so proud of the team we’ve assembled and the work they’ve done. It’s really impressive to see. … Really fostering the team environment and everybody working hard to make it a first-class operation is something I’m really proud of.”

While a tremendous amount of planning and preparation has gone into the move itself, Parsons says that because so much was accomplished ahead of time, the only thing that will actually take place on the day of the hospital move later this month is transferring the patients themselves.

“The support we’ve received from the city and our ambulance services, specifically Emerson and Medic One and Hospital Wing, they’re all big pieces of the patient move itself,” said Parsons. “I can’t say enough about the city – the mayor and his support, as well as his team’s support. We’re very appreciative of all they’ve done to make this project go smoothly for us and for this community.”

Parsons and his wife, Carroll Lane, are parents to 8-year-old Lillianna, 5-year-old Ellenie and 2-year-old James, whom the family adopted from China this past October. The family is active in Fellowship Bible Church.

“What an awesome opportunity this is,” said Parsons. “I’m honored and humbled to be a part of it. The fact that my wife is supportive and allows me to do this very demanding job … I couldn’t do it without her support. It’s been a busy time for us. It’s funny how it all happens at the same time.”

The Cancer Center
While the hospital and clinic will be new and improved on the new NEA Baptist Health System campus, an entirely new addition to the health system itself is its 34,000-square-foot Cancer Center, which will bring all aspects of cancer care under one roof.

“It’s the first of its kind in this region,” said Parsons. “It’s the way cancer care should be done, with all the cancer services under one roof. There are enormous benefits to our patients, because when they go in the doors to the cancer center, everything they need for their cancer care can be done in that building.”

The facility will house research, diagnosis, treatment, medical oncology and more, including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, clinical research and support services. The center will feature 22 chemotherapy suites, a new area for the HopeCircle program a private garden and several other amenities.

Radiation oncology and gynecologic oncology are two new specialties that will be offered at the Fowler Family Center for Cancer Care, and administrators hope that introducing additional assistance in the form of a new nurse navigator will help patients better understand their cancer care.

“There is a lot of information out there. … Lots of treatment and rapidly developing treatment options, but I think when people get the cancer diagnosis, they just hear ‘cancer,’” said King. “We’ve invested in a nurse navigator – a clinically licensed RN – who will really be there to help the patient from diagnosis on. They can help provide educational information. They can help them understand treatment options. They can point them in the right direction even for things like insurance coverage … and just help them along the way. I think that’s going to be huge.”

The center made headlines last month with the announcement of a $5 million gift from Wallace and Jama Fowler to the NEA Baptist Charitable Foundation, the largest donation in Baptist Memorial Health Care Foundation’s history. The gift will be used to create the Fowler Family Patient Assistance Endowment, which will expand and enhance support services for patients and their families. In their honor, the center was named the Fowler Family Center for Cancer Care.

“That generous gift … will help transform cancer care in ways we can’t even fathom right now,” said Parsons. “The endowment we’ll set up will help cancer patients and make sure their care is first class in every way for generations to come. The gift and the generosity of the Fowlers will only make the experience in our cancer center better. We’re really excited about what that does for the treatment of cancer, for the care that the patients receive when they get that diagnosis.”

For more information, visit neabaptist.com. To contact NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital, located at 4800 E. Johnson Ave., call 936-1000; to contact NEA Baptist Clinic, located at 4802 E. Johnson Ave., call 936-8000; and to contact the Fowler Family Center for Cancer Care, located at 4808 E. Johnson Ave., call 936-7000.