Mercy on Tuesday announced it's investing $500 million in the next phase of its health care expansion in northwest Arkansas, a plan that would add more than 100 physicians and specialists to its workforce.
The plan includes a new cancer center, an expanded emergency department, more isolation rooms, and additional clinic locations and outpatient care facilities.
Mercy, which has hospitals in Rogers and Fort Smith, also plans to offer more services in neuroscience, women’s and children’s care, orthopedics, gastroenterology and behavioral health, the Missouri-based health system said in a news release.
Phase two brings Mercy's investment in the region to more than $800 million.
The first phase of the project, which began in 2016, has totaled more than $300 million and is expected to create 1,000 health care jobs in the region. It includes a seven-story, 275,000-SF patient tower in Rogers, a $42 million orthopedic clinic in Fort Smith and a $162.5 million expansion of the hospital in Fort Smith that's expected to be completed in 2024.
Mercy said the expansion is needed to keep pace with the region's rapidly growing population. From 2010 to 2020, the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area grew by 24% to 546,725 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Council recently cited research that shows the region loses $950 million annually because people seek medical treatment elsewhere.
"We have been planning to add a comprehensive cancer center in Northwest Arkansas for many years," Dr. Scott Cooper, president of Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas, said. "Everyone has been affected by cancer in some way, and we need more cancer care resources in the region."
Clark Ellison, vice president of Mercy Health Foundation in Northwest Arkansas, said the foundation will pursue philanthropic partnerships with community leaders, businesses and more to support the project. Donors in the first phase include Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and his wife Shelley, who gave $1 million.
"This initiative is a transformational opportunity that we believe the community will want to support," Ellison said in the release. "So, we welcome additional contributions that will help us meet
the needs of the community even beyond what is currently planned."
The region's growth has led other health providers to expand in recent years, as well. Washington Regional Medical System in September announced that it had acquired about 15 acres of land adjacent to its Fayetteville campus to expand operations. In July 2021, J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell donated $5 million to Arkansas Children's Hospital Northwest to expand its 233,613-SF campus.
The founding of an osteopathic medical school in Fort Smith and the proposed Alice L. Walton School of Medicine in Bentonville are expected to help increase the local supply of physicians and meet staffing challenges in the industry.