Mercy cancer center also planned for Fort Smith

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,593 views 

An announced plan by St. Louis-based Mercy health system to build a cancer center in Northwest Arkansas will not halt plans for a similar center in Fort Smith, according to Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy operations in Arkansas.

Mercy announced July 19 a $500 million expansion of facilities in Northwest Arkansas that is the second phase of growth in that region. The second phase will include a cancer center, emergency department and isolation room expansion, additional clinic locations, more outpatient care facilities and hiring more than 100 primary care physicians and specialists.

Mercy has not publicly said a cancer center is being planned for Fort Smith, but several sources have told Talk Business & Politics a center has been in the works for several years. That effort was confirmed by Gehrig when he was asked if the cancer center in Northwest Arkansas would in any way impact a possible Fort Smith center.

“The plan to build a new state-of-the-art cancer center in Fort Smith remains on track and is unimpacted by Mercy’s announcement to build a cancer center in Northwest Arkansas,” Gehrig noted in a statement. “The two locations will provide much needed additional cancer care to both growing regions, allowing patients to receive care close to home where they have the support of their family and friends. The decision to build cancer centers in both communities is based on the needs of each region and takes into account the resources already available for oncological care.”

No details were provided on the cost, size or number of staff and doctors for the Northwest Arkansas cancer center. Sources have told Talk Business & Politics the Fort Smith center will require an initial investment of around $70 million, with initial plans to build the center between the main hospital on Rogers Avenue and Mercy Tower West – the former Cooper Clinic building.

Mercy would not discuss details about the planned Fort Smith cancer center, saying only that “fundraising for the Fort Smith cancer center is ongoing.”

Mercy began in February work on an estimated $162 million expansion of the main Fort Smith hospital. Mercy Fort Smith will expand its emergency department from 29 to 50 rooms and boost beds in the intensive care unit from 38 to 64. The new ER will allow for about 25,000 more patient visits per year and include “special considerations for infectious disease and behavioral health patients.” The ER expansion includes a five-room secured area for behavioral health patients that is designed for patient and co-worker safety.

Expansion of the ICU will more than double rooms available to support ventilators, and an automation system will allow some spaces to be turned into isolation areas. Additional plans include a 22-bed observation unit requiring no renovation in the former ICU space, helipad relocation that will improve the patient transport process and new gift shop and meeting room space. The work also includes 140 more parking spaces, with parking closer to the new ER entrance.