Baptist Health-Fort Smith

Baptist Health-Fort Smith, located in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), was founded in 1887, making it Arkansas’s first hospital. It serves the population of the surrounding eleven-county area and offers a full range of medical specialties and advanced diagnostic facilities, together with the newest technology, expert medical care, and clinical research.

The hospital got its start following an accident at the railroad yard in Fort Smith, in which a stranger named Gerhardt was injured. He was taken to a boarding house and left. The rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, the Reverend George Degen, found him in a worsened condition with no one to care for him. He subsequently collected $500 from merchants along Garrison Avenue, rented a building, and established St. John’s Hospital.

In 1890, the hospital was incorporated by the state, and a board was established with Judge Isaac Parker of Fort Smith frontier fame as president. In 1899, St. John’s and a second hospital, City Charity, consolidated under the name Belle Point, named after a spot at the junction of the Arkansas and Poteau rivers; it did not retain its Episcopal affiliation. Community leader George Sparks bequeathed $25,000 in 1908 in memory of his wife, and the name was changed to Sparks Memorial Hospital.

Over the next forty years, Sparks was the Arkansas River Valley’s premier healthcare provider, and, in 1953, a new 150-bed facility was opened. Just thirteen years later, bed capacity reached 326. By 1970, services had expanded, and Sparks Memorial Hospital changed its name to Sparks Regional Medical Center. More additions and expansions followed: the Ambulatory Surgery Center in 1979; the Mabee Health Fitness Complex in 1988, which contains the state’s first hospital-based fitness center, the Marvin Altman Fitness Center; the Nancy Orr Family Center in 1990; and the Shuffield Education Center in 1996.

In 2006, Sparks offered the area’s first positron emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT) scan service. Also in 2006, a picture archiving and communications system (PACS) was added to the Medical Imaging Department. In September 2007, Sparks became the first organization in the area to acquire a da Vinci Surgical System and offer the minimally invasive, robot-assisted surgery. In March 2008, the medical center opened its new Renaissance Building, a 142,000-square-foot addition that houses the Intensive Care Unit, the Emergency Department, the Cardiovascular Services Department, and the Medical Imaging Department, with shelled-in space left vacant to contain future surgery suites.

In addition to Sparks Regional Medical Center, Sparks Health System included the physicians and clinics that are part of Sparks Medical Foundation; the Sparks Development Foundation, which was responsible for philanthropy efforts; and a managed care organization, Sparks PremierCare. On December 1, 2009, the health system was acquired by Health Management Associates of Naples, Florida. By the end of 2018, Baptist Health of Little Rock (Pulaski County) had acquired the Sparks Health System, changing the name of the Fort Smith hospital to Baptist Health-Fort Smith and of the medical center in neighboring Van Buren (Crawford County) to Baptist Health-Van Buren.

For additional information:
Baptist Health-Fort Smith. (accessed August 22, 2023).

Blakey, Ellen Sue. Sparks Regional Medical Center: 100 Years of Service. Fort Smith, AR: Sparks Regional Medical Center, 1987.

“The Realization of a Dream: Sparks Renaissance Building.” Special insert. Times Record, March 9, 2008.

Judy Massey
Sparks Health System


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