Editor’s Note: Each year, the Times Record newsroom staff votes on the Top 10 local stories of the year. Baptist Health's acquisition of Sparks Health System is the No. 5 story. Reports will appear through Monday.

The oldest hospital in Arkansas was brought under new management in November. 

The faith-based, nonprofit organization Baptist Health acquired Sparks Health System in Fort Smith and Van Buren on Nov. 1. Sparks Regional Medical Center in Fort Smith, a 492-bed acute-care facility, was renamed Baptist Health-Fort Smith. Similarly, Sparks Regional Medical Center in Van Buren, a 103-bed acute-care facility, was renamed Baptist Health-Van Buren. The acquisition of these two medical centers increased the total number of hospitals within the Baptist Health system to 11.

Baptist Health, which is based in Little Rock, announced July 18 it had entered into a purchase agreement to acquire Sparks Health System's facilities in Fort Smith and Van Buren. 

A grand opening and ribbon cutting celebration for both hospitals was held Nov. 13, with the ceremony for Baptist Health-Fort Smith taking place at 10 a.m. and the ceremony for Baptist Health-Van Buren taking place at 1 p.m. During the Fort Smith ceremony, Troy Wells, president and CEO of Baptist Health, reminded the hundred or so employees and guests that Sparks had been a "trusted part of the community for 125 years, serving over 355,000 people in the 11-county area."

"Baptist Health will look for ways to preserve the Sparks name and its heritage here on this campus,” Wells said. "I've been so impressed and happy with the reception we've gotten here in Fort Smith from the physicians and the employees. I just can't tell you how encouraging it's been for us and they've made this a very smooth transition."

Harrison Dean of Baptist Health said he was proud to be a part of Fort Smith, and said was a memorable day for Baptist Health to join the oldest hospital in Arkansas and bring the hospital and the system into the Baptist Health family.

"I'm humbled to think of the opportunities we have for the state's first hospital in Fort Smith joining Baptist Health," Dean said. "As we serve more people, Baptist Health will continue to provide faith-based health care that strengthens communities we serve and encourages healthy lifestyle changes, which is consistent with our belief that we are more than a business — we are a healing ministry."

Tim Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, explained health care is a "key factor" in economic development, and thanked Baptist Health for investing in Fort Smith.

"It really is the foundation whenever companies and people are looking to locate in a market," Allen said. "When I learned Baptist Health was coming to Fort Smith, a couple things came to mind, and that is stability and world-class health care."

It was reported Nov. 1 there were about 1,600 employees working at the hospitals in Fort Smith and Van Buren, as well as affiliated physician clinics in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma, in the former Sparks Health System.