For the first time in nearly a decade, the east side of North Little Rock will have a health clinic.
On Monday, officials from the City of North Little Rock and Baptist Health gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed North Little Rock Medical Plaza, which will be built near the corner of US 70 and 165.
City officials announced the project, funded in part by the federal pandemic stimulus, was a triumph ending a nine-year wait for a health clinic in North Little Rock’s poorest east side.
“It’s going to help reach people where they are,” said Deborah Rhodes, president of the North Little Rock National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The impact this has had is going to be life changing.”
The new $5 million medical plaza will feature “state-of-the-art” equipment and provide emergency care and trauma services to patients. The health clinic will be completed in 14 months, according to a press release from Baptist Health.
For many east side residents, the shorter distance to the new medical plaza could make a difference, as the Baptist Health Medical Center is on the north side of Interstate 40 and the Union Pacific railroad tracks, which makes it almost impossible for someone to walk there. South.
The Rock-area subway has a bus stop near Baptist Health Medical Center, but the estimated ride is between 45 minutes and an hour from Rose City Community Center, compared to just nine minutes, according to Google Maps.
“Disparities in health care outcomes are well recognized, and where people live can make a difference in expected lifespan by years,” said Dr. Stan Kellar, chief medical officer of Baptist Health Medical. Center North Little Rock in a statement. “Difficulties in accessing care contribute to the disparity. Improving the health of Rose City residents is our goal and our expectations.”
Bringing a health clinic to Rose City was a campaign promise from Mayor Terry Hartwick, who grew up in Rose City. He said he remembers when the neighborhood was a middle-class community where doctors made house calls and he was treated at a local clinic for a head injury.
Access to care may be a public health factor, as people are less likely to seek preventive care or a primary care doctor the further they live from a health clinic, according to the Federal Office for the Prevention of disease and health promotion.
“It saves lives, it saves time, and time saves lives,” Hartwick said.
“The aldermen were very, very focused – with me – to get something out there,” Hartwick said. “So maybe it was just a combined effort with the council people, me, the money available and then the partnership we established with Baptist [Health] was very, very important.”
The health clinic is largely funded by the $16.8 million in federal pandemic stimulus the city received. The funds were used to purchase the property which will be the site of the new health care plaza. The city also financed the construction with funds from recent sales of city-owned land.
For many in Rose City, Dixie and other East Side communities, the former Baptist Health Clinic on East Broadway Street was their main source of medical care, but the clinic closed after a fire in 2013.
Since then, lack of access to medical care has become another issue residents in the east have faced, along with a shortage of groceries, public transportation and jobs.
Earnest Franklin, president of the Dixie neighborhood association, said residents of his predominantly black community have been ignored for years. Franklin welcomed the news of the health clinic in Rose City, but lamented that Dixie saw cuts to bus services and continued flooding due to poor drainage on East Broadway Street.
“I don’t think — I know — the black community has been ignored,” Franklin said.
Rhodes said it’s hard to ignore the largely white, middle-income neighborhoods of North Little Rock that have access to health care, groceries, jobs and transportation, and the poorer black areas of the East Coast.
“I would like to say the race doesn’t have a factor, but being realistic, even though it’s 2022, it matters in a lot of cases,” Rhodes said.