As Arkansas Surgical Hospital in North Little Rock finishes a more than $3 million expansion project adding operating rooms, it is looking for more surgeons.
Since September, the physician-owned hospital has added five surgeons and a sixth will join in September, said CEO Brian Fowler, a member of this year’s class of Arkansas Business’ 40 Under 40. Five of the new doctors are orthopedic surgeons and the other is a spine surgeon.
ASH also wants to add one or two more spine surgeons, he said. ASH has 18 physician owners, and in September it will have about 10 doctors who perform operations at the center.
With the additional surgeons, ASH has evaluated its capacity and decided to expand, Fowler said. “It’s great to get five new surgeons, but you have to give them operating time,” he said.
He said ASH considered going to an off-campus location, but decided to keep surgeries at its hospital. It considered adding four operating rooms and settled on two, adding 4,500 SF to the building. The extra space also will be used as a recruiting tool for surgeons. “The ability to say we’ve got some extra capacity today for you to come on board is very attractive,” Fowler said.
ASH, however, didn’t want to overbuild. “You’ve got to teeter a fine line with that. You don’t want to build a bunch of square feet that you can’t turn the lights on yet,” he said. “But you do want to have some capacity, or else you can get into a situation where you don’t have the ability to seize on opportunities in front of you.”
SCM Architects of Little Rock designed the project, and Kinco Constructors of Little Rock is building it.
The operating rooms are scheduled to be completed in September and ready for use on Oct. 1, bringing ASH’s OR count to 13. The cost to build and furnish the rooms is more than $3 million, Fowler said.
“We started in 2005 with five ORs and then shortly after that we added four,” said Fowler, who joined ASH in 2016 and became its CEO in January 2020. “And then a little after that we added two more. So this will be the fourth OR expansion.”
ASH also is adding three recovery bays for patients, but that involves moving existing office space and won’t require adding square footage to the 124,774-SF building, Fowler said.
ASH does a little more than 8,000 surgeries a year and about the same number of procedures for pain management and outpatient radiology. It has about 300 employees.
Patient services at ASH, in a scene familiar to nearly all other health care providers, were upended when COVID-19 hit Arkansas in March 2020.
During government-imposed pandemic lockdowns, which included bans on scheduled procedures, ASH’s patient volumes fell almost 80% in March and April 2020.
But after the surgery procedure ban was lifted in June, “we did see, just like the other hospitals in town, … an initial surge,” Fowler said in an earlier interview. “So we did make up some of those volumes.” Still, some patients decided to stay away.
Also a result of COVID-19, in June 2020 ASH closed its ASH Urgent Care at 7339 North Hills Blvd., where North Little Rock meets Sherwood. The center opened in 2018 to treat children and adults for a variety of non-life-threatening injuries. And more centers were expected.
Fowler said ASH shut the doors to the urgent center to “focus on our strengths, which are orthopedic and spine.”
ASH also closed its Conway orthopedic clinic, which opened in January 2019.
ASH still has specialty clinics in Hot Springs Village and Russellville, both of which have opened within the last two years.