Caring for the Sick: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Caring for the sick was often a community responsibility in the years before hospitals. Family or neighbors would “set up” with the sick person, tending to their needs and giving them their medicine. Others would tend their animals, harvest their crops, cook meals or whatever else needed doing.

Conway was well into the 20th century before the first hospital was opened. The need for a hospital began to be discussed about 1921. In October, 1923, eighteen Faulkner County businessmen formed a corporation and sold bonds to finance the building of a hospital.

Colonel John E. Little, owner of Lollie Plantation, donated $1,000 and a tract of land located on the southeast corner of College and Western avenues. A two-story building with 33 beds was constructed there. It was furnished through cash donations and donations of privately owned medical equipment. This new hospital, named Faulkner County Hospital, opened in June, 1925.

In 1937, the WPA remodeled the building, adding a new wing with 12 more beds. A year later, the city assumed control of the hospital, renaming it Conway Memorial Hospital. The hospital would be managed as a non-profit private corporation with a seven-member self-perpetuating board appointed with the final approval of the Conway City Council.

The hospital encountered more financial difficulties a decade later and a new board and hospital administrator were named. There was immediate improvement and the hospital quickly becoming self-supporting. By the mid-1950s, the hospital had the funds to build a new, larger hospital.

The hospital purchased 40 building lots on the northwest corner of College and Western from Elbert Faucett, the realtor who had acquired part of the Frauenthal estate. The new hospital, with rooms for 60-75 patients, was completed in 1957.

The last baby born in the old hospital was Alan Lynch, son of Audie and Sallie Jane Lynch, in July, 1957. The old hospital served as headquarters for the Arkansas Civil Defense Agency from 1957 to 1965. From 1965 to 1970, the Faulkner County Welfare Department was housed there. CAPCA used the facility until the building was torn down in 2000.

Additions expanded the hospital over the next several years. A 14-bed wing was added in 1961 and in 1968, nine obstetrics, medical and surgical beds were added, giving the hospital a total of 87 beds. In 1970, a six-bed intensive-care section along with a four-bed pediatric ward and 20 additional medical beds were added. Bill Langford became the hospital administrator in 1971.

Well into the 1970s, the hospital did not have its own ambulances. If a patient needed to be taken to the hospital, they were transported by a funeral home hearse. A friend, knocked unconscious by a fall at a construction site in 1974, was told when he awoke that the McNutt hearse had taken him to the hospital.

In 1980, a $2.3 million project added a new emergency room as well as laboratory, x-ray, physical therapy, and respiratory therapy facilities. After a brief name change in 1986 to Conway Regional Hospital, the hospital became Conway Regional Medical Center in 1993. A Medical Office Tower, a Transitional Care Center, Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center and several rural clinics were added in the 1990s. From 1985 to 1996, the number of physicians on staff grew from 21 to 97.

In the first decade of the 21st century, the hospital continued to grow and add services. The Women’s Center was completed in 2001. That same year, Conway Regional began doing open heart surgeries. A Rehabilitation Hospital opened in 2004 and a Wound Healing Center opened in 2008.

In 2011, the hospital achieved Level III Trauma status and in 2012 it completed a $32 million surgical and obstetrics wing which added 24 labor and delivery rooms as well as eight large operating rooms. There are now more than 200 active and consulting physicians on staff at the hospital.

Today, the hospital has seven clinics that are part of a Conway Regional Primary Care Network. It also recently became associated with CHI-St. Vincent. What started out as a hospital to care for the sick in Conway now has become a truly regional medical center.

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