Inflation boosts Mercy Fort Smith expansion cost; work to wrap up in early 2025

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,295 views 

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

Recent extreme winter weather has not slowed the progress of a major expansion of Mercy Fort Smith, but inflation has added more than $20 million to the hospital project that is estimated to be complete in early 2025.

Mercy began work on the main Fort Smith hospital in February 2022. The project 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. The work also includes 140 more parking spaces, with parking closer to the new ER entrance.

Chief Operating Officer Ryan Geib said phase one site work of the expansion is complete, which included new parking lots to better accommodate patients, visitors and employees.

“Currently, construction teams are working on the building’s foundations and structural concrete columns, excavation of the parking garage footprint, and underground utilities,” Geib said.

The original estimate for the expansion project was $164 million. That number has risen significantly, Geib said.

“Construction costs have skyrocketed due to inflation in the market and labor demands.  Our project was originally valued at $164 million, but we now have an approved construction budget of $186 million, driven primarily by inflation,” he said.

Fortunately, Geib said, planning scenarios staff devised prior to construction beginning have helped to prevent interruptions to existing operations. To date the hospital has not seen interruptions in service due to construction.

“Despite the higher price tag of this project, Mercy is committed to serving the River Valley and is confident that the investments being made in a new Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit will serve the growing healthcare needs of the community for years to come,” Geib said.

According to economic impact info from the hospital, project construction will have a temporary benefit of 400 jobs with an estimated value to the regional economy of $34 million. Once completed the expansion will result in 168 new jobs – added over two to three years – with a labor impact of $15.5 million, and 56 indirect jobs with an impact of $3.7 million.