Population growth dictates new construction, especially in NWA
Health care providers in Arkansas have been hard-pressed over the last several years to keep up with the growing need for services, especially in Northwest Arkansas. Studies in populations trends, community health outcomes and limits in access to care have clearly shown a tremendous need for significant medical expansion in nearly all medical fields.
The state’s top medical leaders have stepped up in the last few years to serve this growing need. In the last year, major investments in medical technology and infrastructure have been made, including projects by Highlands Oncology, Washington Regional, Mercy and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Highlands Oncology Group (HOG)
In September of 2020, Highlands Oncology Group opened its doors at its HOG Parkway Medical Building off Interstate 49 in Springdale. The newly constructed tower is a beautiful, sleek five-story building measuring 125,000 square feet on eight acres of land. Located at Don Tyson Parkway and Gene George Boulevard, the building was designed by architect Crafton Tull and engineer Tatum Smith Welcher with general contractor C.R. Crawford. Highlands has plans for a gradual transition in which most departments will be in place by spring.
“The Northwest Arkansas region is showing no signs of slowing population growth,” Highlands CEO Jeff Hunnicutt says. “This positions Highlands Oncology to continue providing excellent care to patients locally for the foreseeable future.”
Highlands, which originated in 1996, is one of the largest and most advanced community oncology groups in the United States. According to HOG spokesman Joel Nunneley of The Nunneley Group, Highlands is “committed to growing to offer advanced treatment options, multi-disciplinary cancer teams and industry leading cancer research to patients in the NWA region and beyond.”
With the group’s largest construction project yet, Highlands Oncology is adding multiple services under one roof for patient convenience. The new facility promises pleasing aesthetics along with its world-class care in a highly comfortable and comforting space. Nunneley said patients have been very pleased once they have experienced the new building and level of care.
To keep pace with Northwest Arkansas’ rapid growth, Fayetteville’s Washington Regional continues to make strategic investments in advanced technology and facilities. The group’s four-year, $73 million Core Renewal Project — which expanded several departments — was completed in early 2020. Improvements completed this year included additional perioperative rooms, a 16-bed cardiac progressive unit now being utilized as an ICU that could care for COVID-19 or other patients. Washington Regional operationalized a newly constructed 15,250-square-foot lab with new automated hematology and chemistry analyzers and new systems to perform meningitis, GI blood-culture panels and diagnostics for infectious diseases. Several platforms for COVID testing have also been incorporated.
The hospital’s newest construction project is the J.B. Hunt Transport Services Cancer Support Home. Located in Fayetteville, the new center is expected to be complete in early 2021. It will provide the same services as the current Washington Regional Cancer Support Home, but with additional amenities including eight overnight guest rooms with private bathrooms, an expanded wing and prosthesis boutique and an elevator for accessibility. Overnight lodging and all support home services will continue to be available at no cost to cancer patients and their families, easing the burdens of a cancer diagnosis.
Completed at the end of 2019, Mercy invested $277 million into an expansion that included a seven-story tower addition to its Rogers hospital, a new multispecialty clinic with a 24-hour ER in Springdale and six other new clinics. The centerpiece of the Mercy expansion is the $147 million, tower that increases capacity from 200 beds to 300 plus beds. The expansion brought 1,000 new jobs including 100 physicians to Northwest Arkansas.
At 63,000 square feet, the new Mercy clinic in Springdale is its largest in Northwest Arkansas, featuring primary and specialty care and a 24-hour ER just off Interstate 49. Mercy Springdale initially added more than two dozen primary care and specialty physicians to an underserved area of Springdale and plans to add more over time. The facility also includes a 22,000-square-foot emergency room featuring 12 exam rooms, a trauma room, two triage rooms, an isolation room for infectious diseases and three rooms for behavioral health patients. A helipad on site allows for critical care transports to Mercy Hospital in Rogers and other facilities.
Mercy Hospital President Eric Pianalto, a native of nearby Tontitown, noted that the clinic’s proximity to his hometown deepens the meaning of Mercy’s effort to increase access to health care in the area. “The people we will be caring for are my family, my friends and neighbors. That makes the work very personal,” he said at the unveiling of the new Springdale clinic.
UAMS has been making great strides to further develop its cancer treatment options. The university recently added an additional location for radiation therapy at the Baptist Health Medical Center – North Little Rock. It also opened a new state-of-the-art center for chemotherapy at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and is working steadily to bring the first proton therapy center to the state.
In a joint effort, UAMS, Arkansas Children’s and Baptist Health are working together to develop and operate the proton therapy center on UAMS’ Little Rock campus. This advanced type of therapy is a highly sophisticated radiation-based technology for cancer treatment that has the capability to deliver safer, high-dose radiation to cancer patients compared to traditional X-ray radiation treatment. It is widely used to treat children with cancer, as children are particularly sensitive to the effects of radiation therapy.
It’s been a busy year for UAMS. Over the summer, the university also opened a new Health Women’s Center in Midtown Little Rock just off Interstate 630. All women’s health services from its two other clinics moved to this building to provide women with one centralized location for various needs. The Women’s Center building features 46 exam rooms, eight ultrasound rooms and a dedicated patient education space.
More projects are in the works, including a $150 million energy project that features a new $49 million electrical power plant. Once completed, the project is estimated to result in $4.8 million in savings annually. The energy project will enable UAMS to address $101 million in maintenance needs and install energy efficient measures. In the end, UAMS’ energy efficiency ranking will be in the top 1 percent of all academic medical centers in the United States.
“Moving forward with this work, we are seeing to the health of the university’s physical plant, so UAMS can continue to focus vigorously on the health of Arkansans, the education of its students and the innovation of its researchers,” UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson told Arkansas Money & Politics. “Part of our responsibility is being a good steward of the public’s dollars and of our finances in the most efficient way. This will help us do that.”