Mercy Health System on Tuesday announced several NWA expansion projects it plans to complete over the next five years.

Why it matters: The scale-up is pretty drastic, and Mercy officials told Axios the additional space, services and staff are needed to support the region’s growing population as well as surrounding areas.

  • NWA health care, education and business leaders are strategically planning to make the region a health care destination.

Details: Plans include a free-standing cancer center that will provide services such as chemotherapy and radiation.

  • Highlands Oncology presently takes care of the bulk of cancer patients in NWA, but people still have to leave the area for treatment, Eric Pianalto, chief strategic growth officer for Mercy Arkansas, told Axios. As is, Mercy NWA does not offer outpatient cancer treatment.

Yes, and: The expansion also involves:

  • Adding more than 100 physicians and specialists, roughly half of which will be in primary care, Pianalto said.
  • Expanding bed space to the Rogers hospital in the vacant top floors of the tower that opened in 2019.
  • More clinics. Specifics are TBD, Scott Cooper, clinic president, told Axios.
  • Expanding services in primary care, neuroscience, emergency, obstetrics and newborn care, orthopedics, gastroenterology and behavioral health.
  • Additional ambulatory offerings, such as imaging at more urgent care centers.
  • Increasing the number of isolation rooms for highly contagious illnesses, such as COVID-19.

What they’re saying: Mercy will need to recruit sub-specialists across the board, Cooper said. That could mean more orthopedists who specialize in hip and knee replacements or electrophysiologists in cardiology, for example.

  • Mercy intends to hire more social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, but does not plan to add inpatient psychiatric beds for now, Pianalto said.
  • In neuroscience, Mercy wants to expand its capacity to care for stroke and neurology patients and may hire a neurosurgeon, Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy NWA and Fort Smith, told Axios, adding to the two neurosurgeons based at Mercy NWA.

Context: This is the second phase of Mercy NWA’s expansion. The $300 million investment announced in 2016 covered projects including a seven-story tower for additional bed space at its Rogers hospital, a 22-bed orthopedic and spine unit, and its Springdale clinic with an emergency department and specialty services such as cardiology and urology.

Flashback: In 2019, the Northwest Arkansas Council released a report estimating NWA was missing out on $1 billion a year in the health care economy.

  • The council also established a health care transformation division, which Mercy is part of, focused on increasing access to care, specialty care and overall wellness.

The big picture: “We believe this will be an epicenter for health care, and we’re going to make a significant step forward in achieving that with this phase 2, but I don’t think phase 2 is going to be the end of this journey and there,” Gehrig said.

By Percy