Wet weather in 2018 and the pandemic weren’t helpful to construction schedules, but Arkansas Heart Hospital’s second facility is nearly finished in Bryant.
The 95,485-SF $55 million hospital should be cleared for occupancy in late December and ready to open by the third week of January, said Dr. Bruce Murphy, the CEO of Arkansas Heart Hospital. The hospital, the Encore Medical Center, will eventually employ about 250 people.
The project is a few weeks behind schedule, but Murphy wasn’t upset; builders faced 78 rain days in late 2018, more than 20 more than expected.
“We are excited to have this tremendous asset for the people,” Murphy said. “We think it is going to impact in a major way one of the major diseases that didn’t exist when I started to practice medicine.”
That disease, adult obesity, is a focus of the hospital’s Bariatric & Metabolic Institute, which has thrived since its inception in 2017. Its growth was a force in creating plans for the second campus.
Murphy said the Bariatric & Metabolic Institute will move in its entirety 11 miles down Interstate 30 to the Bryant site on state Highway 5. The program’s three surgeons will likewise relocate.
Arkansas Heart Hospital’s peripheral vascular surgery unit will also move to the Encore facility. “It is going to give us a lot of breathing room in the main hospital,” Murphy said. “We are very congested at times in both the procedure rooms but also the in-patient beds.”
Murphy said the Encore Center will also be an acute-care facility with an intensive care unit and an emergency room. It will open in stages, with 50 employees at first, before expanding.
Murphy said a building pad has been laid next door for a four-story office building that Arkansas Heart Hospital plans to build in the next one to three years.
Murphy said bariatric surgery can cure Type 2 diabetes and fight complications of obesity. The State of Childhood Obesity report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that Arkansas is one of the worst states in terms of adult obesity. In 2014, Arkansas was the worst with a 35.9% obesity rate for people 18 years or older. By 2018, the rate had risen to 37.1%, which was third nationally.
“Our surgeons are pretty busy,” Murphy said. “When you’re facing a mountain like that … the potential here for capacity is unbelievable.” He figured there’s work enough for 200 surgeons.
The $55 million price for the Encore Center didn’t include about $20 million in new equipment to outfit it. Jacob Robinson, Arkansas Heart Hospital’s chief administrative officer, said the staff will train on the new equipment after the occupancy certification is completed.
“You’re used to doing things one way in one facility, so you get familiarized with it,” Robinson said. “We are going to have new staff, new equipment, new processes, new ways of doing things. Those are things you have to think through.”
Arkansas Heart Hospital operates 30 clinics around the state. Robinson said building a second campus in Bryant was a “no-brainer,” and Murphy agreed.
“Bryant has the second-highest growth rate of any city in Arkansas,” Murphy said. Citizens “had to drive to Little Rock to get their shopping done, their dining done, etc., and that is not true anymore. No longer will they have to go to the hospital there. Health care is right at their doorstep.”