About two dozen civic leaders and Mercy supporters gathered Monday (Sept. 24) in Rogers to celebrate the start of the final phase of construction for the $141 million, seven-story patient tower that will add 100 beds and double the size of the neonatal nursery, leaving additional space for up to 60 more beds as needed.
“It’s hard to believe we were standing here 10 years ago to open this hospital and now we are celebrating this large expansion as Mercy continues to make healthcare access more available in the growing region,” said Eric Pianalto, president and CEO of Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas.
The erecting of the beam — known as the “topping out” ceremony – is customary in skyscraper construction. The massive beam was signed by Mercy employees and those who support the hospital through philanthropy and services. Sitting atop the beam was an evergreen tree and an American flag, customary for the ceremony. The beam raised at the event will be the highest structural element in the towering project. The evergreen tree signifies hope the building will be everlasting and it also represents safety of the steelworkers and construction crew. The building’s contractor, St. Louis-based McCarthy, projects the tower will be complete in August 2019.
Pianalto told Talk Business & Politics the hospital expansion is on time and within budget.
“We have gotten all our bids out to finish the project and we don’t expect any surprises,” he added.
Pianalto said the expansion was a bold move by Mercy in an effort to help the region grow capacity that had fallen behind population demand. Three years ago, when the project was announced, he said the hospital was out of space. Today that squeeze is worse. The new tower will nearly double the hospital’s size and allow for more specialty care. Pianalto said the biggest challenge in pulling off the project has not been the fundraising. It has been trying to manage the disruption as departments within the hospital have been relocated and will move again when the project is complete.
“We have already started the internal construction on the first four floors and that has meant displacing departments while the construction continues,” he said. “This is going to be happening for another year. We are open around the clock and have to serve our patients, which is our first objective, but we are also working to get this project done.”
Pianalto said the fundraising component of the $247 million expansion announced in 2016 is going well.
“We have raised almost $14 million toward the $25 million goal for Phase I. Our goal is $40 million for Phase I and Phase II,” Pinalto said. “This is a five-year project and we’re about half way through it.”
Pianalto said the project will give Mercy the opportunity to expand services where they are needed. He said the region has reached a population density that supports added specialties and services, but Mercy has been limited by physical constraints.
“It’s exciting to see this project progressing,” he said. “Our neonatal nursery is full. We take care of about 8 to 10 babies in there and we need more space. Having the opportunity to expand other services will be great for the region. Other enhancements to the hospital include a new hybrid cardiac catheterization lab and a new 500-space parking lot.”
Dr. Stephen Goss, president of Mercy Clinics Northwest, said the added space will allow for robotic surgery, which the hospital has not been able to provide. He said the hospital has recruited a neurosurgeon who will join the hospital next summer.
“We have recruited more doctors and we will graduate our first class of physical residents this year,” Goss said. “We have already recruited one of the eight to stay on with us an internal medicine physician. We hope to keep the others in the area as well.”
Goss and Pianalto said Mercy has a role to play in the region becoming a healthcare destination. Pianalto said Mercy has worked toward that goal with its ongoing expansion that involves seven primary clinics, in addition to the large hospital addition. Goss said the North Walton Boulevard clinic in Bentonville will open in a couple of weeks and the large clinic under construction in Springdale will open at the same time as the new hospital expansion in August 2019. Goss said those are the last two clinics included in Phase I and most of the doctors who will work in those clinics have been recruited.
Goss said the Mercy investment is a step in expanding regional healthcare access. He said there is more to do to create a health ecosystem that can sustain itself and make the region a healthcare destination. He said there has to be an entrepreneurial element for health technology, as well as a critical mass of people to support a number of medical specialties. The addition of Arkansas Children’s Northwest in Springdale is also a component to the goal of becoming a healthcare destination.