HMA opens hospital service center in Fort Smith

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 237 views 

More than 280 workers began a new job or the same job in a new space on Monday (Sept. 16) as Health Management Associates opened its regional service center in part of a facility that less than four years ago Lance Beaty was hoping wouldn’t be an investment mistake.

Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates announced plans on April 4 to operate a regional service center in Fort Smith that will employ more than 500 with average annual salaries potentially exceeding $40,000.

HMA, a large U.S. hospital operator and the parent company of Sparks Health System in Fort Smith and Summit Medical Center in Van Buren, estimates the annual payroll will be $21.5 million at full employment within the next four years The company also is investing an estimated $4 million in furniture, fixtures and equipment for the new center.

The almost 90,000-square-foot facility is housed in what was once a portion of Phoenix Village Mall. Beaty, general manager of FSM Redevelopment, bought the crumbling former mall, with the simple plan of converting Arkansas’ first enclosed mall into warehouse space. The warehouse plans were scrapped early in the process, and FSM Redevelopment partners has instead invested about $15 million to build out office space, an exhibition center – removed to make way for HMA – and new retail space.

Shannon White, an assistant vice president with HMA and manager of the center, is pleased that Beaty’s plans changed. She said by mid-October the center will provide a wide variety of support to 23 hospitals and 150 physicians within an eight-state area.

White said a substantial amount of the work to renovate the facility and the ongoing maintenance and other services was and is contracted locally.

“I’m very appreciative of what Health Management has done here, and what they have done to invest in this community,” White said.

She also praised the worker training programs supported through state incentives. Space for those programs were provided by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, the adult education center of the Fort Smith Public School District and Answer Fort Smith, a private company. The training was needed. Several months ago HMA advertised for 150 open positions at the center.

“We had more than 2,500 applications come in,” White said. “Our largest orientation class, which is going on today, has about 40 in it.”

White, who has worked with Sparks and HMA more than 22 years, said the construction aspect of preparing a new facility was a new challenge – especially with the aggressive schedule.

“Everyone really came together in the past four weeks to meet the targeted move-in date,” White said Monday morning as she and Beaty met to cover any issues on the first working day of occupancy.

“I had some doubts. … I’m not from a construction background, so I’d call Lance about something, and Lance would say, ‘It’s going to be OK, Shannon.’ And it would be,” White laughed.

Beaty said even at times he had a few doubts.

“It’s been under construction, and I mean fast and furious, for the last 120 days or so,” Beaty said in an interview prior to Monday. “I will tell you that the city of Fort Smith has been crucial in helping us expedite the construction schedule.”

Not only was Beaty managing the HMA work, but Sykes call center operation also was at the time adding a 16,000-square-foot addition to the about 40,000-square foot they already lease in the former Phoenix Village Mall property. Sykes, which employs more than 46,000 at more than 75 locations in 23 countries, opened the Fort Smith operation in early 2011.

The new Sykes space will support about 150 jobs, bringing total employment in Fort Smith by Sykes to around 600.

When HMA reaches full employment of 500, Beaty estimates that more than 1,200 people will work on the about 40-acre site he purchased in January 2009 during the chaos of a busted national real estate bubble.

“Our little corner of Fort Smith here is home to about a $31 million payroll, which is clearly a boon to a lot of other businesses in Fort Smith, especially for retail and restaurants,” Beaty said Monday after meeting with White.

But Beaty’s not finished. He has three vacant spaces in the retail strip center on Towson Avenue that FSM Redevelopment partners renovated shortly after acquiring the 40-acre parcel. Of greater potential is the about 170,000 square feet of old mall space between HMA and Sykes.

“We’re working on that. … We’ve got some things brewing,” Beaty said with a coy grin when asked about potential tenants for the remaining space.