Alice L. Walton Foundation, Washington Regional partner on new healthcare system

Photo: Washington Regional Medical System

The Alice L. Walton Foundation and Washington Regional Medical System on Monday said they will create a new health system as part of a larger plan to improve access to specialty healthcare services in Northwest Arkansas.

The foundation last year announced a partnership with the Cleveland Clinic to evaluate which types of specialty care are needed in the region, and then make recommendations on how to achieve those improvements.

A 2019 report showed that many Northwest Arkansas residents currently travel elsewhere for specialty care. Those findings indicated that the region lost an estimated $950 million in 2018 when local residents sought specialty care elsewhere.

Adding specialty services to satisfy that demand, research found, could bring over $2 billion to the local healthcare economy by 2040, and could make Northwest Arkansas a destination for specialty care. New specialty services could include cardiac care, digestive health, neurosciences, oncology, orthopedics, spine and behavioral health.

A chart shows the current and projected economic implications of improving specialty healthcare services to reduce how many local residents seek special care elsewhere.

Graphic courtesy of Northwest Arkansas Council

“This partnership is all about access, ensuring that residents of our thriving region have ready access to world-class health care services, including specialty care,” said Walmart heir Alice Walton.

The three organizations have unique strengths, Walton said, that together can “offer a broader scope and scale of services to our region and beyond.”

Walton in 2020 announced the creation of the Whole Health Institute, and last year unveiled plans to build a new nonprofit medical school. Both organizations will focus on redesigning healthcare systems.

At the time, Walton said a holistic approach that incorporates mind, body and spirit could be part of a solution that focuses on preventative health by training doctors on the importance of exercise and nutrition.

“It’s essential that our health care system focus on the whole person—body, mind and spirit—to truly serve the community and improve health and well-being,” said Walton. “With this new partnership, we have the opportunity to take a transformative, innovative approach that can improve health outcomes now and chart the course for a healthier future.”

The foundation and Washington Regional will soon begin developing operational plans for the new system, and the goal is to finalize the next steps by the end of the year, according to a news release.

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that merges clinical and hospital care with research and education. U.S. News & World Report recently named Cleveland Clinic the No. 2 hospital in the nation and has ranked it No. 1 in heart care for 27 consecutive years.

By Percy