A $6 million construction project is underway at the Jefferson Regional Medical Center to consolidate the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ South Central Family Medicine Residency Program under one roof.

Construction began June 13 at JRMC to refurbish the first two floors of the Jefferson Professional Center II, which will accommodate the merging of UAMS’ three Pine Bluff clinics along with the physician residents of their South Central Regional Campus.

UAMS’ residency program has been active on the hospital’s campus for more than 40 years, and the hospital will be able to expand and condense their operations into a larger facility while freeing up space for JRMC’s upcoming expansion plans, according to officials from both facilities.

“We’re excited to be in one building,” said Wesley Trussell, assistant vice president of facilities for JRMC.

UAMS entered into a lease agreement with JRMC for the new space, with initial funding for the renovations coming from the Jefferson Hospital Association, the non-profit that operates JRMC. The payment will be returned over a 20-year period, an agreement that is common with other building on the hospital’s campus, according to Trussell.

In 1973, the Area Health Education Centers, AHEC, was founded by an act of the Arkansas legislature following the combined efforts of Governor Dale Bumpers, rural physicians, hospitals and UAMS with the expectation of fulfilling the need for primary care physicians trained for particularly in rural Arkansas communities.

Through AHEC, UAMS and their allied medical forces were determined to address the problem of primary care physician maldistribution in rural Arkansas communities, according to UAMS officials.

Today, the AHEC program in Pine Bluff is referred to as UAMS South Central Regional Campus, but the program’s reputation of being the first one of its kind in the state, and the oldest of the AHECs in the UAMS Regional Programs System, still remains, UAMS officials said.

Since the graduation of the residency program’s first class in 1981, more than 365 resident physicians have completed family medicine training in Pine Bluff at UAMS South Central and JRMC. A majority of the graduates remained in Arkansas to continue practicing medicine.

AHEC-Pine Bluff introduced the community to its first family medicine physician residency program in the state in 1977 – outside of the UAMS Family Medicine in Little Rock – and opened the first UAMS outpatient clinic to train residents in family medicine the following year.

“The renovations will allow us to consolidate and bring all three of our clinics together in one building,” said Mark Deal, director of UAMS South Central Regional Campus. “It will allow us to be more efficient.”

The UAMS AHEC Family Practice at 4010 S. Mulberry, their main location, currently has more than 20,000 active patients who have visited the center within the last three years. Each day, AHEC Family Practice handles about 50 to 60 inpatients in conjunction with providing hospital services for unassigned hospital patients.

By mid-January, Deal said physician residents participating in the UAMS South Central Regional Campus program will be moving into their new home at the JRMC Professional Center II. Construction is expected to be complete toward the end of the year.

“This is a long, long partnership we have with JRMC,” Deal added, giving praise to JRMC’s efforts and sponsorship of the program and its operations. “Without them, we would not exist.”

Jefferson Regional Medical Center offers the residency program a broad range of services, specialties and training in inpatient, specialty, and emergency settings.

According to Deal, the affiliation with JRMC and UAMS South Central also offer clinical rotations through specialty practices and physicians locally and in UAMS’ region to junior and senior medical students, pharmacy students, nursing, physician assistant students and advanced nursing students, among others.

The long-time partnership between the two entities doesn’t stop there. The two also participate in the Rural Preceptorship where medical students receive a firsthand perceptive of a primary care physician at work. With this program, UAMS and JRMC have placed students in Pine Bluff, Warren, Monticello, Stuttgart, Lake Village, Dumas, McGehee, DeWitt, Lonoke and many other south Arkansas communities for years.

Another program, a pre-preceptorship, has been sponsored by JRMC and UAMS South Central since 1979. For one week each, students gain experience in family medicine, pediatrics, or surgery.