The $186 million-expansion to add ICU and emergency room space and more than 160 jobs at Mercy Fort Smith is on schedule and expected to be complete by early 2025.
“We’ve been pouring concrete for six or seven months now, and we’re starting to see a lot of it progressing with a skeleton,” said Ryan Geib, COO of Mercy Fort Smith. “ It’s nice to see the progress and it coming out of the ground.”
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.
The original estimate for the expansion project was $164 million. That number grew to $186 million with the rising cost of materials and labor after the first of the year.
“We’re up about 13% from our original project. That’s really from two factors. The rising cost of materials is one. Also, there are a lot of big projects going on in this region. With that rising demand, there has been a rise in the cost of construction labor,” Geib said.
Though the cost may have grown some, Geib said there have been no significant changes to the plans for the project.
“There was some very thoughtful planning for the project so it would meet the needs of the community and the area. Those needs haven’t changed, so the plans stay,” Geib said. “With the economic development this area is going to be seeing (in the near future), the need for the expanded services is there.”
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.
Geib said that Mercy is attempting to fill those new positions and is actively recruiting physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists.
“These positions can take up to two years to fill. We will ramp up our recruiting efforts even more in summer of next year. It is never soon enough to start hiring for this,” he said.