FORT SMITH - Fort Smith officials and Mercy co-workers took a step into the area's health care future on Tuesday as hospital and community leaders broke ground on a $162.5 million ER and ICU expansion at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith.
Plans for the expansion were announced in June 2021. During a gathering outside the hospital Tuesday morning, Ryan Gehrig, Mercy Hospital Fort Smith president, said Mercy co-workers, patients and families in the region have been eagerly anticipating the hospital's growth.
Mercy Fort Smith will expand its Emergency Department from 29 to 50 rooms and increase capacity in the intensive care unit from 38 to 64 in a design that provides better workflow and flexibility. The new ER will allow for about 25,000 more patient visits per year and include special considerations for infectious disease and behavioral health patients. An additional 140 parking spaces will accommodate the expansion, with parking closer to the new ER entrance.
In addition, the increase in ICU beds will more than double the number of rooms capable of supporting ventilators. The building's automation system is being designed to allow floors or pods to be turned into isolation areas as needed.
The ER expansion includes a five-room secured area for behavioral health patients that is designed for patient and co-worker safety. Additional plans include a 22-bed observation unit requiring no renovation in the former ICU space, helipad relocation that will improve the patient transport process and new gift shop and meeting room space.
Incoming Mercy CEO Steve Mackin acknowledged the almost 170 years that Mercy has had a health care presence in Fort Smith.
The new additions at the hospital will help Mercy expand its care for patients throughout the River Valley, said Fort Smith Mayor George McGill. Quality health care is the reason people come to Fort Smith, he said.
Father Paul Fetsko, vice president of mission at Mercy Fort Smith, offered a blessing for the new space against a backdrop of Mercy co-workers from the ER and ICU. Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief Bryan Warner also was on hand to discuss the tribe's focus on health care and the importance of working with Mercy to improve wellness throughout the region.
Construction on the expansion is being managed by McCarthy of St. Louis. Construction is expected to be complete in late 2024. Plans are being developed to minimize the impact to Mercy patients during the construction process.