A medical college in Fort Smith has purchased the Golden Living corporate offices to use as a biological research lab and wellness center.


The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) announced the purchase of the Golden Living facility in Fort Smith on Tuesday in what it says is a "quest to advance healthcare education and research in Arkansas and beyond." Kyle D. Parker, chief executive officer of ACHE, said the move will create the largest research institution of any osteopathic school in the nation.


The Golden Living corporate offices building at 1000 Fianna Way, formerly known as Beverly Healthcare’s offices, will be named the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education Research Institute Health & Wellness Center. It was purchased last week, ACHE announced Tuesday.


The press conference was held at the Golden Living facility where approximately 75 people were in attendance to hear the announcement.


"We are ecstatic to announce that we will be relocating our ACHE Biological Research Lab to this new location, taking its current space from 7000 square-feet to a massive 120,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art research facility," Parker said. "This new location will make us the largest research institution of any osteopathic school in the nation. We will now have the space to focus on other types of research. As such, we are creating the Health & Wellness Center which will focus on holistic health."


Parker expressed excitement that the facility would work with community partners, such as Charolette Tidwell who was in attendance, to educate residents of healthy eating options and habits.


The ACHE Board of Trustees voted in full support of the purchase of the facility, stated John Taylor, chair of the ACHE Board.


"We see this as another opportunity to further the ACHE mission to educate healthcare professionals; create health and research facilities; and to improve the lives of others," Taylor said.


The building currently has one and a half floors that are occupied. The medical college hired Newmark Moses Tucker Partners, the second-largest property management company in the state of Arkansas, to manage the property. Newmark Moses Tucker Partners will handle all current and future leases.


Parker also recognized Golden Living for the "most generous donation of all the equipment and furnishings."


Plans for the new ACHE building include renovations to the entire facility. The current ACHE Biological Research Lab will move to the new location as soon as the remodel is completed. Current research space is used by pre-clinical PhDs, and clinical doctors of osteopathy, as well as medical doctors. It involves wet lab and dry lab research.


"Serological research has already begun on the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) campus as ARCOM researchers are actively involved in studies to help find a solution to the antibody questions of COVID-19," the release added.


Director of Research Talal El-Hefnawy, PhD, said the purchase shows ACHE has leadership on a national level.


"This colossal addition to our highly impressive facilities and campus, and the dedication of a significant portion of the future building to serve as research space will be beyond what many of us dreamed. This extraordinary growth was possible because of the right leadership and vision," El-Hefnawy said.


Thomas Yorio, PhD, has been hired by ACHE as a research consultant to aid in the design of the new research space. Yorio is the provost emeritus, a professor of pharmacology and neuroscience, and a member of the North Texas Eye Research Institute at University of North Texas Health Science Center.


"Dr. Yorio is among the most respected individuals in osteopathic medical education having been involved in it for some 40 years," stated Brian Kim, president of ACHE. "In order to plan for a first-class research institute, we retained a consultant of international acclaim and renown."


Yorio said the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education’s purchase of this new building in Fort Smith will have a major impact on community health, wellness, and medical research innovation.


"The plans to add state-of-the-art research and clinical facilities within the same complex will allow for the translation of research from the bench to the bedside. Besides the enormous effect it will have on the well-being of the population of Fort Smith, it will also add a substantial economic impact," Yorio said. "What an exciting time for ACHE and the community."


Parker elaborated on his plans for more holistic health research: "The key to me is regarding education as one of the essential components of holistic healthcare. There is no question that the visual and performing arts help serve as stress reductions. Our internal research has shown us that the introduction of art plays a significant role in lowering stress levels of our students and therefore, it can do the same for our community. We will continue our partnership with art related entities and emphasize art throughout all of our curriculum."


McClain promoted to chief wellness officer


Parker plans to promote Elizabeth McClain, PhD, from vice provost and vice president of Academic Affairs to Chief Wellness Officer.


"Dr. McClain will change her role to take on the charge of working with churches, school districts, governmental agencies, hospitals, community business leaders, colleges and universities, courts, and 501c(3) agencies," explained Parker. "With space constraints a non-issue, we have the opportunity to change the bottom line. We will have all the tools to work with our community to transform health and wellness."


McClain expanded on the collaborative vision.


"We are on a journey to transform health and wellness education using a community engaged holistic approach. This approach is guided by eight domains of wellness including, emotional, environmental, social, occupational, financial, spiritual, intellectual, and physical. This approach is integrated with evidenced based models that address the social determinants of health, access to care, the physical environment, health behaviors," said McClain. "Positive change always begins with an idea that transforms actions. I have been so impressed with the community’s drive to improve the wellbeing of our residents. I look forward to the impact we can as we work together. Our first step will identify the key players in order to guide our holistic wellness programming."


Included in the purchase are 63 acres of land.


"We are pleased that the property is zoned for C-3 which allows for mixed use. We anticipate creating facilities that will support the ACHE Research Institute Health & Wellness Center," noted Parker. "I intend to work with the City of Fort Smith to bring the trails system to the doorsteps of this facility, as well as take advantage of the mountain bike trails that are already located on this property."


City leaders comment


Carl Geffken, Fort Smith city administrator, commented, "The City of Fort Smith is excited by the expansion of ACHE. This will be a world-class research institute and will lead the way in transforming the concepts of health and wellness – right here in our city. ACHE’s mission and Kyle Parker’s strategic vision and leadership have proven that Fort Smith is one of the best locations in the country for cutting edge work. We support ACHE’s growth and congratulate them on their continued success!"


Mayor of Fort Smith George McGill said of the transaction, "I am continually impressed at the next-level innovation taking place at ACHE. Their latest game-changing effort will place our community at the forefront of health, wellness, and medical research. You have my vow as your mayor that I will do everything I can to support, encourage, and promote this incredibly beneficial development. This new project is unquestionably, a quantum leap forward for Fort Smith."


"This is a really big deal for Fort Smith," said Ward 3 City Director Lavon Morton who will be joining the ACHE board in January.


Parker concluded, "We have reached the tipping point in the United States in doctor shortage. If we can begin to teach children at a young age how to eat right, exercise, and to have a healthy lifestyle, we can change the culture and help to reduce many health issues like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. We are attacking the healthcare issue on both ends – providing doctors and providing resources that afford the ability to change lives in our community, state, and nation."


Golden Living building


Golden Living’s 318,000-square-foot building at 1000 Fianna Way was placed on the market for sale or lease in April 2018. There were about 400 employees at the corporation’s administrative offices at that time, down from about 900 just a few years prior. The corporate headquarters was moved to Plano, Texas, in 2011 based on traveling expenses and rents for regional offices, according to former CEO Dr. Neil Kurtz in a March 2011 Times Record article.


ACHE


Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) is a private, non-profit institution located on 430 acres in Fort Smith. ACHE’s first college, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) is set to graduate its inaugural class of 150 osteopathic medical students in May 2021. ACHE opened its second building, a 66,000 square foot facility that will be the home to developing programs: the School of Physical Therapy, the School of Occupational Therapy, and Physician Assistant Studies. ACHE is the first and only private institution in Arkansas that is dedicated solely to healthcare and wellness. For more information about the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education and our programs, visit www.acheedu.org.


Times Record Reporter A.Drew Smith contributed to this article.