Cooper Clinic, P.A., the first institution of its kind in the South or Southwest, was founded on October 1, 1920, and named for its founding physician, Dr. St. Cloud Cooper. Initially, the group practiced on the sixth floor of the First National Bank of Fort Smith, and Dr. Cooper, along with other founders (Drs. M.E. Foster, S.J. Wolferman, D.W. Goldstein, W.R. Klingensmith, H.B. Thompson and A.C. Belcher), comprised the total staff.
Patterned after the Mayo Clinic, Cooper Clinic experienced steady growth and expansion from its very beginning. By 1923, x-ray equipment had been installed and a receptionist, stenographer, bookkeeper, and laboratory technician trainee were added to the staff.
The original facilities were soon outgrown, and plans were drawn for construction of a new clinic. The two-story facility would cost $50,000 and cover one and one-half blocks. On January 24, 1924, Cooper Clinic’s offices and laboratories moved to their new location at 100 South 14th.
The Clinic evolved into an outpatient diagnostic and treatment center with specialists and sub-specialists being added in many medical fields. Dr. W.F. Adams came to the clinic in 1937 to practice obstetrics and gynecology; Dr. J. Kenneth Thompson, internal medicine, joined the staff in 1941; and Dr. S.W. Hawkins, surgeon, came to the clinic in 1946. Other fields represented by Clinic specialists in those early years included urology, dermatology, and cardiology.
The 1940s were a very interesting time for the practice of medicine, and particularly for Cooper Clinic. Summers were dreadful due to the frequent occurrence of polio. The polio vaccine had not yet been developed and many patients were confined to an iron lung. It was also quite common to see cases of malaria and typhoid in the early 1940s.
In 1941, a physician’s starting salary at Cooper Clinic was $300 a month. The Clinic charge for a routine visit was $3.00; a physical examination $5.00; urinalysis $1.00; complete blood count $5.00; and house calls were $5.00 —or $10.00 if they were after midnight. Medical supplies were not disposable. The nurses spent many hours every day sharpening needles, sterilizing syringes and gloves.
At that time, the Clinic had a dictaphone with a speaking tube, and a recording cylinder that was shaved and used over and over again. The typewriters were manual, not electric, and clinics and hospitals were not air-conditioned. The clinic’s four-digit phone number was 6161, which changed to Sunset 2-6161 as Fort Smith grew. It was not until 1945 that penicillin was introduced and became the real wonder drug that revolutionized the practice of medicine.
During 1941 and 1942, the workers constructing Camp Chaffee were added to the growing list of Clinic patients, as were many dependents of the military personnel stationed at the post after it opened.
Cooper Clinic’s close relationship with Fort Smith industry, which still exists today, blossomed in the 1940s. At that time, Clinic physicians cared for the many employees of local manufacturers, including Garrison, Ward and Okla Homer Smith furniture factories, Harding Glass, Willard Mirror, Ward Ice Company, Southwestern Bell, and Athletic Smelter.
By 1953, Cooper Clinic again needed larger facilities, and the basement of the building was remodeled for the orthopedic, urology, and internal medicine departments. By the late 1950s, the staff had grown to 12.
The next expansion began August 19, 1971, at a ground-breaking for a larger, ultramodern new Clinic at Waldron and Ellsworth Roads. This new facility doubled the Clinic office space at a cost of about $765,000. The staff moved into this facility in October of 1972, and by 1976 there were 14 active specialists and sub-specialists on staff with 202 employees and an annual patient load of 180,000.
In the next decade, Cooper Clinic began expanding its facilities outside the main location. In 1985, Clinic doctors moved into Mercy’s Physicians Building on Rogers Avenue, a clinic in Fianna Hills, Fort Smith, as well as offices in Greenwood and Paris. In 1993, Cooper Clinic added a pediatric group, an ear, nose, and throat clinic, and an allergy clinic in Fort Smith.
Soon, medical services grew to include sports medicine, occupational medicine, ambulatory surgery, nephrology, ophthalmology, plastic surgery, two podiatry clinics, and three walk-in Urgent care (ProMed) clinics.
Marking Cooper Clinic’s 75th Anniversary, a new $10 million dollar Main Clinic opened at 6801 Rogers Avenue. The new Rogers Avenue Main Clinic included an Ambulatory Surgery Center where more than 6,500 procedures are performed each year. 2002 brought the opening of a new Occupational Medicine Clinic and the Mercy Medical Building, housing numerous Clinic physicians. In 2003, radiology expanded to offer MRI and the only permanently installed PET scan in the area.
A great deal of this growth took place under the ten-year administration of CEO, Jerry Stewart, M.D. Dr. Stewart came to Cooper Clinic in 1970 as an Internal Medicine physician and Pulmonologist. In 1994, Dr. Stewart retired from his medical practice and assumed the role of chief executive officer, a position he held until he retired in 2004.
Upon the retirement of Dr. Stewart, Jack Davidson, M.D. assumed the role of CEO. Dr. Davidson was Board Certified in Obstetrics/Gynecology and held a M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. During his tenure as CEO, Cooper Clinic redesigned numerous internal policies and procedures that enhanced the financial strength and stability of the Clinic. Dr. Davidson resigned in 2007 to accept a position in Missouri.
In March 2007, Rebecca Fleck, M.D. was selected to serve as Interim CEO while an executive CEO search was conducted. A board certified hematologist/oncologist, Dr. Fleck practiced with Cooper Clinic for 15 years and previously served as President of the Board of Directors.
On July 30, 2007, Dr. Fleck moved into the role of Chief Medical Officer, a newly created position to oversee quality measures to improve patient clinical outcomes and experiences.
On that same date, the role of CEO was assumed by Doug Babb. Doug had a long and successful history of leadership in business including Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative and Legal Officer at Beverly Enterprises and Senior Vice President at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation. For over seven years, Doug worked tirelessly with a personal commitment to strengthening healthcare in our area.
Upon Doug’s retirement, Curtis Ralston was named the CEO by the Cooper Clinic Board of Directors and moved into that role of leadership in January 2015. A CPA and a native of Oklahoma, Curtis joined Cooper Clinic in 2011 as Chief Financial Officer. He then served as Chief Operating Officer before assuming the role of CEO. Curtis earned his Master’s and Bachelor’s Degrees in Accounting from Oklahoma State University and has 19 years of accounting experience, including nine years in CFO positions in the healthcare industry.
In 2017, Cooper Clinic reached its 97-year milestone as a physician-owned group and is committed to continue the legacy of Strong Medicine.