FORT SMITH, Ark. – Dr. Cole Goodman faced a formidable challenge in 2010 when he was tasked with leading the Mercy Clinic Fort Smith Communities as president.
Mercy and Dr. Goodman’s goal was to rebuild a good portion of the medical community in Fort Smith, which saw numerous physicians leave from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.
“Fort Smith used to be a medical mecca. It was where the helicopters came to bring patients, not where they left from to go elsewhere,” he recalled. “As a result of this outmigration, we had significant gaps in our coverage, such as losing too many pulmonary intensivists, general surgeons and neurosurgeons.”
Dr. Goodman took on the challenge and oversaw tremendous growth, not only in the number of doctors but also with the addition of Mercy Orthopedic Hospital Fort Smith and four new primary care clinics. He said much of the credit for early clinic growth goes to Matt Keep, who at the time was chief operating officer of Mercy Clinic in Fort Smith.
In the span of almost a decade, Mercy Clinic increased from roughly 25 integrated physicians to about 200, about five advanced practice registered nurses to around 100 and less than 40 co-workers to more than 700. The growth culminated in late 2017 when Mercy brought on about 45 physicians and more than 400 co-workers from Cooper Clinic.
Retirement stayed far in the back of Dr. Goodman’s mind for several years until he accomplished much of what he set out to do when he became president. The Cooper Clinic transition was a final building block in restoring much of the medical community in Fort Smith and adding several missing specialties, such as dermatology, to Mercy Clinic.
“For the most part, it’s been good for the legacy Cooper Clinic physicians,” he said. “We’ve had very good results. The physicians seem to be doing well. Patient satisfaction scores have climbed tremendously.”
That helped Dr. Goodman decide he could retire July 27.
“We’ve accomplished quite a bit here. We’ve definitely changed the landscape,” he said. “Access to care has significantly increased for the people in our communities.”
Dr. Goodman, who has a Bachelor of Science in literature from the University of Arkansas, received his medical degree at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. In 1978, he started his practice and joined the plastic surgery staff at St. Edward Medical Center, where he was chief of surgery in 1985 and 1990.
The first Mercy-branded primary care clinic was built in Fort Smith. The Dallas Street clinic served as a prototype for new construction across the ministry. It opened in 2012, followed by Cliff Drive and Free Ferry in 2014 and Chaffee Crossing in 2017.
As Dr. Goodman enters retirement, he’s pleased that Mercy Clinic’s year-over-year growth in patient visits has been as high as 32%, while new patient growth has held steady at 12% to 14%.
“It tells me we’re providing more care and have an open-door policy,” he said. “If you come to our clinics, we’re going to see you.”
Dr. Goodman said he’ll “miss tremendously” the clinic administrative team, physicians and staff.
“It’s been a real honor to serve in this position. I’m leaving it in good hands,” he said.
Dr. David Hunton, previously chief of staff for Mercy Hospital Fort Smith, took over as clinic president July 1 and inherits what Dr. Goodman calls a “tremendous staff” led by Amy Fore, chief operating officer for Mercy Clinic Fort Smith Communities.
“The administrative personnel are phenomenal and have done a great job. The team here works very cohesively,” he said. “I think Dr. Hunton will do a fine job.”
Dr. Goodman was honored with a retirement celebration on Aug. 1, 2019, at Mercy Orthopedic Hospital Fort Smith. Here are photos from the event.