Rogers Hospital Plans for $247M Expansion

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas unveiled a $247 million expansion plan Wednesday that it said could add 1,000 jobs over the next five years.

"We're looking forward to how we can continue to contribute to this vibrant economy here in Northwest Arkansas, as well as take care of each other. That's what it's all about," said Dr. Steve Goss, Mercy Clinic president.

The plan includes several clinics, expanded specialty care offerings, and a new seven-story patient tower that would add 150 beds to the hospital.

Mercy also established a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences community internal-medicine residency program. The program is a partnership with the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville. Eight doctors will start in the program in July, growing to 24 in three years.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he took a break from the special legislative session underway in Little Rock to highlight the importance of Mercy's announcement. He said four generations of Hutchinsons have received health care at the Rogers hospital over the years.

"Whenever you are talking about a $247 million investment, that's a big deal. Whenever you are talking over the course of years, a 1,000 new jobs in the health care industry, that is significant for the economy of our state and the well-being of our citizens," Hutchinson said.

Mercy leaders began outlining expansion plans two years ago after completing a 2011 commitment to infuse $90 million into the system. The system spent nearly $400 million over the past 20 years on area projects.

Wednesday's announcement is the latest in a string of Northwest Arkansas health care expansions.

Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville broke ground in January on a 66,300-square-foot medical plaza and is in the middle of building a five-story, 105,000-square-foot women's and children's center.

Northwest Health System earlier this month announced that it bought Fayetteville-based Physicians' Specialty Hospital, making it the system's fourth area hospital.

"All the health care systems realize we are a growing area and that health care is one of our most basic needs," said Mike Malone, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. The council is a private, nonprofit organization that collaborates with business and civic leaders on regional economic development, community vitality, education, and infrastructure.

Goss said Mercy will try to raise about $40 million to help with the building projects and to create an education endowment that would include the residency program. Eric Pianalto, president of Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas, said fundraising will begin in about 90 days.

Pianalto said utility and site work is starting immediately on the hospital's new wing. Construction should begin in about 60 days with completion expected in July 2019, he said.

The hospital has 200 beds, and the additional space is needed, Goss said.

Mercy moved to the site off Interstate 49 in 2008 with the belief that the hospital would have plenty of space for many years, Pianalto said.

"It's without hesitation I can say we've exceeded the expectations that were set in 2008," he said. "Today we have new and exciting opportunities to meet today's needs and also look to the future and how health care is going to be provided in this community for years to come."

Goss said one way to meet today's needs is to provide patients with better access to care. Initial expansion plans include four clinics with three more being considered in the long term.

The first new clinic is set for Pea Ridge, where Mercy has already purchased land, Goss said. Mayor Jackie Crabtree said Pea Ridge has a physician in town, but it has been several years since it's had a full-service medical clinic.

"This will add to the good business climate we have here," Crabtree said. "It's just another building block to help us get to the next step."

Land deals are still under negotiation for additional clinics.

Dr. Peter Kohler, vice chancellor for UAMS Northwest, said the residency program has been in the works for years.

"The key to making this a health care destination is training our physicians. We won't have enough people unless we train and retain those physicians," he said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges reported that 57 percent of students who complete graduate work at UAMS stay in the state. The national average for retaining such graduates is 45 percent.

"This is all part of the method to the madness," Goss said.


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