Walmart heir's nonprofit teams with Washington Regional to build new medical system in northwest Arkansas

The Alice L. Walton Foundation is partnering with Washington Regional Medical System to build a new regional health system in northwest Arkansas with the goal of improving outcomes. 

The two partners intend to finalize operational plans this year. The goal is to strengthen value-based care in the region and expand access to care, particularly specialty care. It is also intended to support academic and teaching opportunities for a new generation of health professionals. Washington Regional hopes to train doctors beyond general medicine, its CEO told Axios, in an area with underdeveloped specialty offerings losing patients to other regions.

Cleveland Clinic will also be involved in the project. (Last year, it and the foundation partnered to find ways to improve access to specialty care in northwest Arkansas.)

“This partnership is all about access, ensuring that residents of our thriving region have ready access to world-class health care services, including specialty care,” Walmart heiress Alice Walton said in a press release. “It’s essential that our health care system focus on the whole person—body, mind and spirit—to truly serve the community and improve health and well-being.” 

In 2019, Walton founded nonprofit Whole Health Institute, which is focused on making comprehensive health accessible and affordable. Then, she announced the formation of the nonprofit medical school Whole Health in Arkansas, which has plans to open in 2024. In the announcement, the foundation and Washington Regional said they intend to partner with the school on the project as well. 

A 2019 report (PDF) from the Northwest Arkansas Council Healthcare Transformation Division estimated the region lost nearly $1 billion per year because people traveled elsewhere for high-level specialty care.

“The creation of the regional health system will advance our mission and vision, including expanding our clinical, academic, and operational capabilities, and continuing to invest in our facilities,” Larry Shackelford, president and CEO for Washington Regional Medical System, said in the announcement.