Fort Smith Board approves rezoning for Mercy work, OKs cyber security analyst

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,296 views 

Rendering of expanded emergency room and ICU space at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved an ordinance Tuesday night (Oct. 5) for a planned zoning district (PZD) Along Rogers Avenue, South 74th Street and Dallas Street that will allow Mercy Hospital Fort Smith the ability to proceed with plans for a $162 million expansion of its emergency room and intensive care unit.

The board approved the ordinance passed with a vote of six for, none opposed, and one abstention. Director Jarred Rego abstained from the vote and discussion because he is employed by Mercy.

At the Planning Commission meeting concerning the PZD and the subsequent expansion neighboring residents opposed the expansion because of increased traffic on 74th Street and northern parking lot citing concerns regarding lack of screening and noise pollution. The planning commission unanimously approved an amended motion that called for a 100-foot buffer along the north parking lot to screen the exposed property on Riviera Drive rather than the 30-foot standard.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Director George Catsavis asked Chip Johnson with Studio 6, an agent for Mercy, if something could be worked out that would include bushes, shrubs or trees to help with the buffer. Johnson said plans were already being drafted that would include those items.

Mercy Hospital Fort Smith plans to begin construction on the $162 million expansion in early 2022 with completion estimated in 2024. The project also includes adding more parking at the hospital. The project is part of several recent projects that continue to expand Mercy’s operations in the Fort Smith region, information released by Mercy June 30 said.

The Fort Smith hospital will expand its emergency room from 29 to 50 rooms and increase ICU capacity from 38 to 64. Multilevel parking also will add 140 parking spaces to accommodate the expansion with parking closer to the new emergency room entrance.

“The new Emergency Department will allow for about 25,000 more patient visits per year and include special considerations for infectious disease as well as behavioral health patients,” a news release said.

In other business, the board unanimously approved an ordinance amending the 2021 Budget to authorize an additional personnel position in the Information Technology Services Department. The full-time position will be for a cyber security analyst who will provide critical, daily support to the City’s ERP/Financial Systems.

At the April 13 Board of Directors study session, the ITS department presented information on the state of cyber security awareness at the city. In that presentation, it was noted that local government bodies are more likely to be targeted by ransomware attacks than any other type of organization, Russell Gibson, director of Information & Technology Services, said in a memo.

“This statement was according to a new study by Barracuda Networks, which looked at 71 global ransomware incidents over the last 12 months. This study found that 44% of global ransomware attacks that have taken place so far in 2020 have been aimed at municipalities, which is virtually the same proportion as in 2019 (45%). The existing ITS staff that are dedicated to cyber and other forms of security are simply overwhelmed,” Gibson said.

The position will have a salary range of $60,444.80 to $90,688.00. There will be no additional or new cost for this new position through the remainder of fiscal year 2021 due to the ITS Department having a surplus of funds within the salary budget item due to periods of vacancy for positions within the department this year, Gibson said.