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FORT SMITH -- A second medical school is being developed on the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education campus to offer degrees in occupational and physical therapy and a degree in physician assistance, the colleges' president announced Tuesday.

Kyle Parker presided over a brief groundbreaking for a College of Health Sciences, a 66,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art medical school he said will cost $25 million to build and equip. Of the total, $16 million was donated by an anonymous couple. The rest of the money will come from college coffers, he said.

The college will require 30 faculty and staff members. Accreditation for the programs is still being sought.

"We will always serve to provide relief to those seeking access to health care," Parker said. "In other words, the underserved."

The underserved are those who are isolated geographically, those who seek training in their home region and patients who need access to health care from "well-trained, compassionate providers," said Benny Gooden, executive director of institutional relations.

Parker made the announcement an hour after the first class of undergraduates at the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine completed final exams in the 120,000-square-foot medical school that opened 10 months ago.

About 100 people -- college officials and staff members, community leaders and others -- crowded under a tent to escape the early afternoon heat during the ceremony or stood nearby in the shade of some pine trees. Officials lined up with their shovels created a cloud of dust as they tossed their small piles of dry, sun-baked dirt.

Gooden said officials did more than listen to suggestions about the programs the school should offer.

He said they found a prediction from the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics that in addition to doctors and nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists and occupational therapists were among the highest areas of need this decade.

Checking further, he said, the Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock did an occupational needs assessment for Arkansas Colleges of Health Education.

The study looked at several fields and focused on the region encompassing Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas, Gooden said. It validated the Labor Statistics Bureau's findings.

"That's why we're here today with an ambitious next step to address health care needs on Arkansas' newest higher-education campus devoted exclusively to graduate-level preparation for health care professionals," Gooden said.

The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education is on formerly undeveloped Fort Chaffee land the U.S. Department of Defense returned to civilian control in the 1990s. In addition to the osteopathic college building, two housing projects providing 164 apartments have been built.

Groundbreaking for a third project, consisting of 91,000 square feet of housing space and 32,000 square feet of commercial, restaurant and shop space, is planned for next month, Parker said.

Keeping with its mission to serve the underserved, the osteopathic college announced in February the formation of a partnership with the Community Health Centers of Arkansas to provide clinical rotations for students and primary care-based residencies for graduates in health care centers in 40 locations around the state.

The college entered into a partnership in February with CHI St. Vincent of Hot Springs to develop training opportunities for the college's undergraduate and graduate medical students.

NW News on 05/30/2018

Print Headline: Fort Smith medical campus growing

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