Mercy Fills Mental Health Gap in Northwest Arkansas

April 2, 2015

Like much of the nation, Northwest Arkansas does not have enough behavioral health care professionals  - making mental health one of the area’s biggest unmet health care needs. It is a situation Mercy is addressing, and with a recent $693,750 grant from the Walmart Foundation to Mercy’s Behavioral Health Services, families across the region can expect to see increased access.

In fact, Mercy is planning to hire 12 additional behavioral health providers including psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, social workers, therapists and psychological examiners. In fact, three of the 12 have already been hired. ”The Walmart Foundation grant is significant in helping us move forward to meet this need,” said Dr. Steve Goss, president of Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas. “Without a doubt it is a gaping hole in our community and to address it we have to come together. It’s why we are thankful for the Walmart Foundation’s support as we prepare to turn the tide on mental health needs in our area.”

“Access to quality mental health care is a challenge in many communities, and vital to helping people live healthy lives,” said Karen Parker, Senior Manager, the Walmart Foundation. “As a core part of our Northwest Arkansas Giving strategy to increase access to community health care, the Walmart Foundation is pleased to support Mercy’s Behavioral Health program and help meet the growing behaviorial health care needs in our community.”  

The hire of Dr. Nick Ogle as Program Director of Behavioral Health is the first step toward ramping up the program.  Dr. Ogle has been on the faculty of John Brown University for the last eight years and is also one of the founders of the Joshua Center, which provides affordable counseling services in both Fayetteville and Rogers. While the first priority for Dr. Ogle is increasing the breadth of providers at Mercy Clinic Psychiatry Lowell, an outpatient behavioral health facility, Dr. Ogle is also busy developing a new outpatient model that places therapists throughout NWA in Mercy’s existing clinics.

“From children to adults and senior adults, the need for more behavioral health services shows itself to primary care and specialty physicians each and every day,” Dr. Ogle said. “Physical ailments often walk hand in hand with mental ones. To properly treat the patient, we have to be ready to provide both types of care. It allows the doctors to work closely together in a patient’s best interest.”

A great deal of analysis has gone into the development of Mercy’s Behavioral Health initiative and the numbers are telling.

  • According to Mercy’s community overview, among the adult (18+) population, depression and anxiety presents itself as the eighth most prevalent chronic disease.
  • Current numbers show that Mercy psychiatrists receive 50 self-referrals weekly and more than 500 internal patient referrals annually.
  • Since 2012, Benton County alone has experienced a 9 percent growth rate, and the area anticipates continued growth.
  • There are 40 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in Pulaski County, home to Arkansas’ largest metropolitan area, Little Rock, versus four psychiatrists per 100,000 people in Benton County.

Clark Ellison, regional vice president of Mercy Health Foundation said, “On behalf of everyone in the foundation and all of Mercy, we want to thank the Walmart Foundation for its generous donation.” Mercy’s Behavioral Health program, along with Mercy’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Mercy’s Telehealth program are Mercy Foundation’s three priority projects for 2015.  Learn more about how to give to Mercy at Every dollar makes a difference.

Mercy is the fifth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves millions annually. Mercy includes 34 acute care hospitals, four heart hospitals, two children’s hospitals, three rehab hospitals and two orthopedic hospitals, nearly 700 clinic and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.