ROGERS -- Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas announced a $500 million investment Tuesday to expand and upgrade its facilities, including a cancer treatment center.
The hospital also plans to expand the emergency department and isolation rooms, increase the number of patient beds to nearly 400 and add clinic locations. The project also will increase services in primary care, neuroscience, women's and children's care, gastroenterology and behavioral health.
The expansion is the second phase of Mercy's upgrades. The first phase was announced in 2016.
Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Hospitals Arkansas, said phase two is necessary to meet the needs of a growing region. Gehrig said the hospital is preparing for the increase in people who will need health care, especially emergency services.
"It's already a stressed ER," he said. "At the main campus, which is where we're primarily talking about expanding the ER, it's pretty close to being at capacity."
Gehrig was promoted in June after he spent 10 years as president of Mercy Fort Smith. The change in leadership structure will help ensure both of the region's Mercy hospitals move forward with the same goals, according to Dr. John Mohart, who leads operations for all Mercy hospitals across multiple states as president of Mercy Communities.
Scott Cooper, president of Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas, said the new cancer center will serve an aging population.
"The fastest-growing demographic, even in this dynamic area, is the 65 and older population, so the need for cancer care is only going to grow," Cooper said.
Ryan Cork, who leads the Health Care Transformation Division, which is housed under the Northwest Arkansas Council, said the Mercy expansion is part of the council's goal to make Northwest Arkansas a health care destination. Mercy, along with other health care providers in the area, has partnered with the council to help grow medical services.
"All of our programs are growing, but all of them are growing together to help to meet these common goals and challenges that we've agreed upon -- hospital capacity, access to care and having more specialized expertise in the area," Cork said.
Cooper said the goal for the cancer center will be to become a health care destination, so people come to Northwest Arkansas to get cancer treatment.
The hospital expansion also will add upward of 1,000 new health care jobs, as well as provide more health care jobs for students entering the workforce, Cork said.
"It'll be a very intentional hiring staging process to accommodate our graduates coming out of John Brown, out of the U of A, out of UAMS, out of NTI, so that these young men and women coming into the workforce can stay local and work here," Cork said.
Mercy opened a seven-story tower in late 2019 as part of a $147 million project it announced in 2016.
The tower has 279,000 square feet of floor space and is attached to the hospital east of Interstate 49. It includes nearly 70 beds, a hybrid operating room, cardiovascular operating rooms, a general operating room, an endoscopy suite, a heart catheterization lab, a neonatal intensive care unit and the McMillon Family Heart Unit, according to a news release from Mercy. Expanded services include pharmacy, laboratory, registration, patient access, a gift shop and a cafe.
Raymond Burns, president and CEO of the Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce, said specialty health care is vital for the region to continue growing its workforce.
"Having specialty and exceptional medical service is one of the things that's evaluated when people are deciding where to live and where to relocate to," he said.
"If you look at these world-class companies, to get the world-class people they need to work in their businesses, you've got to have a world-class community, and health care, just like education, is that foundation for the quality of life that attracts people to this region."
Gehrig said he is most proud of the quality health care the expansion will bring.
"People tend to latch onto job growth, facility growth, and that's all the exciting stuff," he said. "But this is going to enable us to strengthen our position from a quality perspective."
Mercy is a not-for-profit, multi-state health care system based in St. Louis with hospitals in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.