$500M Mercy Project Includes Cancer Center

$500M Mercy Project Includes Cancer Center
A rendering of the cancer center Mercy plans to build in northwest Arkansas as part of phase two of its regional expansion (Mercy)

To meet the growth of northwest Arkansas, Mercy announced plans last month to spend $500 million to add more doctors, clinics and a cancer center to the region as it works to transform patient care. 

The health system, headquartered in St. Louis, said it will invest the money over the next five years, which follows a $300 million investment it made in 2016 that included a seven-story, 275,000-SF hospital in Rogers. 

The cancer center remains in the final planning phase, but it is likely to be built on or near the health system’s campus in Rogers, said Eric Pianalto, chief strategic growth officer for Mercy Arkansas. 

The center will be “a significant” investment, with more details coming by the end of the year, Pianalto told Arkansas Business last week. 

Mercy’s investment aims to meet the growth of the area, he said. From 2010 to 2020, the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area grew by about 25% to about 550,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mercy also announced last month a partnership with the Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minnesota, to study health care data in order to detect diseases earlier and start treating patients sooner. 

“The effects of that we expect to be profound in the not too distant future,” said Dr. Scott Cooper, president of Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas. 

Mercy and Mayo will analyze vast amounts of treatment and patient data, which up until recently had been too complex to study, the news release said. The patient data doesn’t identify an individual person. “With the combination of privacy-protected, cloud-based technology architecture, and the growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning, this aggregated clinical deidentified data generates patterns to pinpoint disease earlier and identify best treatment options,” the release said. 

Cooper said the focus of health care treatment now is to work to keep people out of the hospital by keeping them healthy. And if patients do arrive at the hospital, the plan is to get them well and sent home as quickly as possible.

That treatment shift will disrupt how health care providers are paid, which is after a patient has been treated. Pianalto said Mercy is working with employers and insurance companies to shift the payment model to one that is “more predictable and provides the best outcomes at the lowest possible costs.”

In northwest Arkansas, most of Mercy’s investment will be spent on adding doctors and services as it plans to hire more than 100 primary care doctors and specialists. Expanded services planned include primary care, neuroscience, emergency, orthopedics, women and children’s and behavioral health. 

Cooper said recruiting doctors to the area is easier now than it was years ago because of its growth. “It’s easy to sell physicians on the quality of life here,” he said. “The other part of that is I think physicians are attracted to the dynamism of the health care community.”’ 

Mercy also plans to build out the top two floors of its Rogers hospital, increasing the number of patient beds to 400. 

Pianalto said the money for the project will come from the Mercy system and operating funds. “One advantage of being part of a larger system is we pool our funds,” Pianalto said. 

Mercy has about 30 clinic locations in northwest Arkansas. It expects to add five to 10 more as part of the investment. 

“For Mercy to do what Mercy does, there’s no choice but to grow,” Pianalto said. “And, you know, we got this in front of us, … but there’s no telling what’s going to happen beyond that.”