story and photos by Michael Tilley
They took time to brag about their economic impact in the Fort Smith region, but, to their credit, execs with Mercy also noted serious deficiencies in the regional health care system.
Lynn Britton, president and CEO of St. Louis-based Mercy, Mike McCurry, Mercy’s chief operating officer, Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Fort Smith, and Dr. Cole Goodman, president of Mercy Clinic in Fort Smith, spoke Monday night (Oct. 8) to a crowd of 110 about the hospital’s expansion progress in the region, its economic impact, and its “challenges to progress.”
Officials with the St. Louis-based Sisters of Mercy announced in August 2011 a plan to invest about $192 million in Mercy facilities in the Fort Smith region as part of a 10-year plan to invest $4.8 billion in its operations in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Mercy (formerly St. Edward Mercy Health System) in the Fort Smith region is comprised of the 373-bed hospital in Fort Smith, critical access centers in Paris, Waldron and Ozark and the Mercy Clinic. More than 90 doctors and 1,754 full-time employees operate in nine locations in the region.
Monday’s update, held in the meeting room at the Movie Lounge in Fort Smith, included the first public release of an economic impact study completed May 1, 2012, by St. Louis-based Advanced Financial Associates.
Based on data from the hospital’s June 2010-July 2011 fiscal year, Mercy’s Fort Smith operation had an annual payroll of $121 million, and provided medical services to almost 264,000 people — to include about 58,700 emergency patients and about 7,500 surgeries. Other economic impacts in the 2011 fiscal year for the Fort Smith region include:
• $247.5 million spent in the region by Mercy and its suppliers;
• $96.1 million in direct payroll — excluding benefits — for 1,754 full-time employees;
• $34.6 million in direct capital investment;
• $20.9 million in unpaid indigent care, unpaid cost of Medicaid services and other unpaid services;
• $5.6 million in local and state taxes; and,
• $311.9 million in total economic impact to the Fort Smith area in fiscal 2011.
“Assuming Mercy’s growth in spending and wages increases at a modest 2% annually over the next 10 years, Mercy will generate almost $3.5 billion in total economic benefits for the city during this time period,” noted the executive summary of the impact report.
Part of that impact will include the hospital’s continued recruitment of new doctors. Goodman said the clinic plans to add 80 new physicians in the next three to five years, with at least 50 of those being specialists. Those doctors will require a support staff of about 280, which will result in added annual payroll of about $19.7 million.
It was also announced Monday that the Mercy Clinic operation under construction at 7800 Dallas St. in Fort Smith is expected to open Oct. 29. The new clinic is expected to house 8-10 doctors and onsite lab services. Construction on a second clinic in Fort Smith is expected to begin by the end of 2012.
Gehrig said the growth will also include planned expansion of facilities for cardiology, cancer treatment and other programs.
McCurry, who is a veteran of the Mercy system in Springfield, Mo., said the challenges systemwide for Mercy are physician recruitment, quality of care and managing costs.
But in the Fort Smith area, McCurry said the shortage of physicians is a significant problem. Data provided by Mercy suggests that 20% of people in Fort Smith who need medical care leave the area to get it. He said 62% of those who need cardiac care are receiving that care outside of the area.
The region, according to Mercy data, is 34% below the national average for the number of primary care doctors, and about 60% below the national average for specialists.
Just a few years ago, the region had 10 active urologists.
“Now there are just two urologists,” McCurry said.
He said the average patient in the Fort Smith area waits 24 days to see a specialist, with the wait being about 40 days to see a cardiologist.
But McCurry said Mercy will bring to Fort Smith a process that has worked in other areas. That process requires the hospital, area physicians and the community to work together in improving health care.
“It’s no longer an experiment. It’s a proven fact,” McCurry said of the Mercy formula.