Officials with Mercy Northwest Arkansas on Wednesday (April 27) announced a five-year, $247 million expansion that will add 1,000 jobs and add four clinics in the growing economic region. Mercy has earmarked more than $200 million of the expansion costs, and a capital campaign will be launched soon for the remaining $40 million, according to Eric Pianalto, president of Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas.
Pianalto said the community has been part of this project through two years of planning and they will also be part of it becoming reality through a capital funding campaign.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who attended the announcement event, said the expansion is a clear sign of the job and population growth in Northwest Arkansas. He also credited Mercy for its vision and solicitation from the community to help meet the growing needs for the region.
A bulk of the expansion will be a new 7-story patient tower at the main hospital in Rogers. The new facility will add about 150 beds to the hospital, with an end goal of 360 beds to “accommodate future inpatient growth.” Utility lines are already being moved for this 190,000 square-foot build out with completion expected over the next two years. Pianalto said the Neonatal Intensive Care will also be expanded and moved to the new tower. He said the neonatal expansion will not duplicate any services that will be provided by Arkansas Children’s Hospital once it opens in Springdale.
The expansion also includes four new clinics in the near future: two in Bentonville, one in Pea Ridge and one in west Bella Vista. Three other clinics are planned for the longer term. Hospital officials said they had 38 acres under contract in northern Washington County, that would also be part of the expansion plan.
“Our hospital and clinics have been serving the community at a very high capacity. To ensure we carry out our mission and continue to meet the needs of Northwest Arkansas, we developed this $247 million community presence plan that will allow us to serve our patients into the future by providing additional access to quality care and advancing the region as a healthcare destination,” Pianalto said in a statement.
The expansion will include hiring an estimated 100 physicians, adding more advanced practitioners and adding new equipment and procedures such as advanced hybrid cardiac catheterization not now performed in the area in addition to the expansion of neonatal services previously mentioned.
“Having more clinics and recruiting new doctors and advanced practitioners to Mercy will allow our patients to get care close to home,” Dr. Steve Goss, president of Mercy Clinic, said in a statement.
Goss and Pianalto told Talk Business & Politics that recruiting 100 doctors is no easy feat given the national shortage. They said the hiring has already begun with some expansion taking place on the 7th floor of the hospital. As the clinics are built out over the next two-and-a-half years, there will be more hiring. Once the final tower is completed, three years from now, the largest round of hiring will occur.
Goss said it’s getting easier to recruit doctors to the region, but they hope to also build in a pipeline of new resident doctors through a new internal residency program with Little Rock-based University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Veterans Health Care System. The system will begin with eight doctors and grow to 24 in the residency program by year three. He said this program also gives the hospital a three-year trial hiring period with these residents, and hopefully, he said, they will be able to retain many of these doctors once they finish their residency.
Economic and civic leaders applauded this expansion news given the region’s growing population.
“This investment is a positive step in the region’s effort to become a healthcare destination center of excellence,” said Mike Malone, CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. He said all the health care providers in the region continue to invest heavily in this effort which is key to earning the “center of excellence” designation recently discussed by health care professionals at the Northwest Arkansas Health Care Summit.
Pianalto said since he began working at Mercy in 1997 the region has been playing catch up with the health care needs in the local community. He said this ambitious plan didn’t just spring up overnight, but it has been coddled and thought through with community input over a two-year planning cycle.
“This plan may help us finally catch up to the needs in this region, even if it’s just for a minute,” Pianalto said.
Goss said the hospital is “out of room” and the time for expansion was yesterday, but now will have to do.
For the past four years, Rogers Mayor Greg Hines has been saying Rogers and Northwest Arkansas have the opportunity to become a healthcare destination. At Wednesday’s event, he said this investment along with Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s local expansion, Washington Regional’s large expansion and Northwest Health’s focus on accessible care clinics are proof that this notion has become more than words and beliefs.
“Believing is one thing, investment is quite another and this region is blessed with both,” Hines said.