MOUNTAIN HOME — Baxter Regional Medical Center has been keeping pace with Mountain Home's growth.
When current hospital CEO Dr. Bob Kerr started in 1967, he was the town's seventh doctor and the hospital had 39 beds for 3,200 people in the community.
Kerr came back to the hospital after a stint with BlueCross in Little Rock. He figures that the town's healthcare community has kept pace with the growth in the area.
"We are the hub," Kerr said. "We are roughly three hours to Little Rock, two-and-a-half to Jonesboro, Springfield [Missouri] and Fayetteville."
So the town's location is isolated from the rest of the state, but has that isolation, in a way, helped?
"Oh, absolutely," said Amy Cordes, COO of Physicians' Medical Center of the Ozarks. "We have things here and do things here that other towns our size wouldn't do. We have an ambulatory surgery center here at the clinic. We work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. We'll work with the physicians and surgeons and schedule times for them that are convenient for them … so that they can get their patients in on their schedule. It's just something that we have to do."
The clinic has also kept up with the community's growth as well.
"We are up to six providers now," Cordes said. "When Dr. Stacey Johnson got started, it wasn't that many, but we have adjusted and done things to keep up with the town. We do internal medicine, cardiology, we have a pain management center. We do all these things because the community needs them."
When asked the same question, Mountain Home native and state Sen. Shawn Womack, who represents the area in the state legislature, agreed with Cordes.
"Absolutely," he said. "The hospital has a 16-county service between northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. The thing that I think really put the hospital over the top was in 1998 when they started doing open-heart surgery. With that, people who used to have to go to Little Rock or Springfield didn't have to anymore. They could stay in town and have that done. I really think that's what took the hospital to the next level."
The dual-state nature of the area, though not as pronounced as Texarkana, for example, still causes some headaches.
"We have people from here, people from Missouri that are all using the hospital," Kerr said. "But we get a lot of retirees here. They used to be mainly Chicago folk, but we are starting to see Iowa and now we are getting people from all over … California … Florida."
The has a reputation as a retirement Mecca and is considered particularly attractive to retirees from the Midwest, mostly due to the low cost of housing and real estate.
In fact, the influx of retirees from the West Coast has spawned a new term, "California millionaire" — a person who sells his home out West for $1 million or more and purchases a large home in the Mountain Home area for as little as $150,000 or $200,000.
"It's challenging," Kerr said. "The retired people are challenging with Medicare as they age, but they are good people, good to take care of."
According to Womack, the insurance situation is also an advantage.
"We are very Medicare heavy," he said. "Not Medicaid heavy. And that helps us draw a lot of the specialists since the reimbursement is better for Medicare."
With all the retirees in the area, one might think the healthcare providers in the community cater to them, but that isn't necessarily the case.
"We also have 4,000 students in the schools," Kerr said. "We graduate 290 out of high school. So we have a lot of young people in the community."
Baxter Regional is also inter-generational. Area parents who were born there often come back to BRMC when having their own children.
"I delivered them and their kids, and that's really neat," Kerr said.
With 1,300 employees, Baxter Regional is one of the largest employers in all of North Central Arkansas. Womack added that it is a key part of the local economy.
"Healthcare and financial services form the two pillars," he said. "The hospital has just started a new construction plan and we have had nine new banks open up and we have two more under construction."
Kerr explained Baxter Regional's plan, "the first phase of which was just passed … a restructuring of our emergency room. It will basically double (in size) … and that's what people thought our most pressing need was and now we are working on our second need, which is increasing the amount of operating room space and outpatient surgical suites. We're working on the plans for that."