The health care industry is expanding to keep up with northwest Arkansas’ growing population, and it’s not just construction companies that are benefiting.
Major hospital expansions are under way, such as Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s $167 million facility in Springdale and Mercy Hospital Northwest’s $247 million expansion plan. Other hospitals and medical-care companies in northwest Arkansas have also begun or completed expansions.
Health care is just one industry that has responded to the force of northwest Arkansas’ growth. More people mean more schools, more shops, more restaurants, and more office buildings.
“You take some of the other markets that we’re in; it might be higher education in that market or it might be office growth in those markets,” said Greg Fogle, president of Nabholz’ midwest division, which is doing the construction at Children’s Northwest. “In northwest Arkansas, there is a lot of health care work going on. That’s what we’re seeing more now. The other projects are still going on; they’re just being overshadowed by health care.”
Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Fayetteville and Little Rock did the design of Children’s Northwest in partnership with FKP Architects of Houston. Mark Herrmann, a principal with the Fayetteville firm, said health care is one of many strong industries in the market.
“Health care has been one of the frontrunners,” Herrmann said. “We’ve really seen an upswing across the industry.”
Crafton Tull did the civil engineering for Mercy’s expansion project at its Rogers campus, which is scheduled to add an additional helipad and a 100-bed tower in addition to clinics throughout the region.
“If you talk with Mercy on the hospital they will tell you they’re over capacity,” said Daniel Ellis, vice president of northwest Arkansas infrastructure for Crafton Tull. “Just based on the residential work we’re doing, I think we are seeing an uptick of people moving to northwest Arkansas. What you’re seeing is the medical industry trying to play catch up.”
Northwest Arkansas is no stranger to building to accommodate people; sometimes it seems I-49, which connects the four major cities of the region, is and always will be under construction to add traffic lanes. The region is continually adding homes, from upscale subdivisions for Rogers and Bentonville to more student apartments for Fayetteville.
Herrmann said many health care organizations may have wanted to expand in northwest Arkansas but shied away or delayed plans when the recession hit in 2007-08. Now that things have stabilized and the population growth continues unabated, many hospitals clearly decided, Herrmann said that the “time was now.”
“There are not enough services whether it is retail or medical services or even schools to serve the growing population,” Fogle said. “It’s a high tide floats all boats kind of thing.”
Cody Crawford of C.R. Crawford Construction of Fayetteville said health care expansion isn’t limited to bigger and more hospitals. Crawford is building an assisted-living facility for Primrose in Rogers, and Mercy’s expansion includes clinics in smaller towns in northwest Arkansas.
“There is so much continuous [growth] to feed each other,” Crawford said. “As one sector grows, the next sector benefits from it. It’s a pretty healthy balanced area. After that matured, it’s nice to see all those other opportunities and sectors.”
Health care will create more health care growth, Herrmann said. The new Children’s Hospital, for example, will create a market for ancillary health care such as doctor’s offices, pharmacies and clinics.
Not Just A Building
Fogle said Arkansas Children’s Hospital had a luncheon for the construction workers in Springdale, and the guest speaker was a woman whose child’s life was saved by medical care at the Little Rock hospital. Fogle said for Nabholz’s construction workers, it was a poignant reminder of the importance of what they’re doing.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” Fogle said. “It was a connection between the purpose of the project and the hearts and minds of everybody who is working on it. We’re not just building a building, we’re building a facility that could very well save someone’s life. It makes you feel like the work you’re doing is pretty important.”
It can be very technical, too. Bates & Associates Architects of Springfield, Missouri, did the design for Mercy’s tower expansion, and Project Manager David Londagin said hospitals are complicated systems.
“You don’t just go in and wing it,” said Londagin, who works out of Bates’ office in Rogers. “There’s a lot of technological things that if you don’t know, you’re going to be lost.”
Mercy’s expansion included adding another helipad, which Ellis said involved — as might be expected — more than a few pages of regulations from the FAA.
“Hospitals have a larger need to accessibility parking and routes to the building,” Ellis said. “You have to have more parking than you would on a normal shopping center or something like that.”
Herrmann said health care design and construction is a specialty field because of the “ins and outs” of regulations involved. For a children’s hospital, there is an added dimension of making the facility child-friendly rather than a foreboding, scary place.
“One complication is the sort of integration of more fun aspects for the children,” said Herrmann, mentioning designs such as family rooms, bright colors and “fun corridors.” “You want to make children comfortable.”
But hospitals still have to be sterile and failsafe. Fogle said Nabholz has managers with certifications in health care construction on site during the build to make sure a hospital’s high demands are met.
Fogle said the building’s power supply and medical gas system can never fail so those have to be installed, tested and then retested as well as each of those system’s backups. One thing that most people don’t consider is the pristine care that has to go into the installation of a hospital’s ventilation ducts, Fogle said.
When Nabholz is installing the ductwork, workers spend as much time putting in the system as they do making sure the system is flawlessly clean.
“You don’t always think of infection control when you’re first building a building,” Fogle said. “In the health care business, cleaning as you build has a net end game. You don’t want to leave a dirty building that will lead to an infection later on. We have to make certain that doesn’t happen.”