In an interview session Tuesday prior to the regular monthly meeting Mercy Fort Smith and Dr. Richard Eccles made presentations to the Booneville School Board about their prospective involvement in a school-based wellness clinic.
Grant Morris, the Director of primary care operations and regional operations with Mercy in Fort Smith, highlighted the broad spectrum of services offered by Mercy’s 32 hospitals, almost 300 outpatient facilities and its opearation of five school based wellness clinics.
Mercy Clinic, under which a school-based wellness center would fall, began in 2008 with 19 physicians and 50 support staff. Now there are over 100 physicians, 25 advanced practioners and 300 support staff with “plans to add 30 more family practice doctors and 50 more specialty physicians,” said Morris.
“I say all that to say that when we started looking at ways how we could expand primary care access and how we can put access out in the communities instead of expecting people to come to Fort Smith for their care was through school based clinics,” said Morris.
From that grew the first Mercy school based clinic in Rolla, Mo., and a clinic transformed to a school based facility in Mansfield, with new clnics in the works for Cedarville and Waldron in the coming weeks. Because of its agreement to operate Booneville Community Hospital, the school based clinic in Magazine is also now a Mercy facility as well.
“We have quite a bit of expertise in school based clinics. We know a lot of ways to make them successful. We know a lot of ways we didn’t make them successful, things to improve on,” said Morris. “I know there’s a lot of hurdles from contraceptives to reimbursement.
“What I would propose to the school is Mercy is committed to Booneville, committed to the River Valley to providing better health care to our students, our adults to everybody. We would like to partner with you in whatever fashion fits the school and for us.”
Specifics, however, Morris said he could not provide.
Superintendent John K. Parrish asked how many days a facility would be open, but Morris said a financial analysis and other matters would be necessary to answer that but a clinic has to be open 12 hours a week which can be covered by a physician, a mid-level provider (APN), or even telemedicine through a school nurse.
“What I can commit to today is that we will start our process of the feasibility of what makes good sense for us and what doesn’t make good sense for us,” said Morris.
Morris said he could give an answer in a month.
Asked on more than one occasion about how he would operate the clinic, Eccles said five days a week.
Eccles noted that he has “been a Bearcat” since 2002 when, as a community match medical student with three children, the city of Booneville matched state dollars in exchange for the prospective doctor spending a corresponding number of years in that community after completing residency.
Eccles said he and his family chose Booneville out of a pool of 40 cities and, despite being approached by other communities to shift the commitment, “Booneville just felt right.”
“When you talk about a commitment to establish a clinic we know that,” Eccles said. “When we left the hospital we thought we could make things better, and we have. We wanted better access to care and we wanted to model not only a $5 million building but we wanted to model our hearts.”
He added that when he opened his Eccles Pediatric and Internal Medicine Clinic rather than only survive, the clinic thrived and, now in year two, he has asked what do we want to do next.
“We do great in Booneville Arkansas with the babies; we do great in Booneville Arkansas with the toddlers,” said Eccles. “We do a heck of a job with chronic disease and our adults, but the one area we don’t do a good job with is our adolescents.”
Eccles also noted state statistics including obesity rates where, after portions of eastern Arkansas, the worst area is the River Valley.
“We can do better for our kids,” said Eccles.
Eccles also noted a history with asthma care through clinics in Texas, where those identified and care experienced leaps in test scores because they were not missing as much class.
Obesity can be addressed through BMI results and working through a school nurse and programs can be targeted for smoking cessation and alcohol use, Eccles added.
“You can integrate nutrition and you can identify risk factors and you can make a difference in their lives and in generations. and that’s why we need to do this,” said Eccles.
The doctor also highlighted his specialities.
“Nurse practitioners go three months of their entire education in pediatrics. I spent two months in developmental pediatrics with ADHD,” said Eccles. “How many kids here have ADHD? We see a ton of them. We see kids whose counselors bring them because their parents can’t.”
Eccles also noted his work with the school, as a team doctor for football and a concussion program much more advanced than required or suggested by the Arkansas Activities Association.
Eccles also used a flag given him by a resident when he was in medical school.
“Help me plant this flag and make a difference,” he said.
Eccles also said he has had preliminary conversations with Mercy officials about jointly operating the clinic.