Mercy ‘Tops Out’ Expanded ER, ICU in Fort Smith

April 11, 2024

Mercy hospital leaders, co-workers, Sisters of Mercy and board members were on hand April 10 to watch the final beam go into place for an expanded emergency room and intensive care unit in Fort Smith.

Under the guidance of McCarthy Building Companies, the final beam was raised as onlookers watched from below. Ahead of the topping out ceremony, Mercy Fort Smith co-workers were given the opportunity to sign the final beam, which now sits atop what will be the main entrance at the expanded facility. The beam was adorned with an evergreen tree, a tradition for topping-out ceremonies dating back to ancient times.

Mercy doctor's coat Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Arkansas Communities, speaks during the topping out ceremony on April 10.

The $186 million project includes expanding the emergency department from 29 to 50 rooms and increasing 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. 

Mercy serves one purpose, which is giving back to the community, said Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Arkansas Communities.

“Many health systems, they exist to increase shareholder values. Our shareholders are the communities,” he said.

Gehrig recognized co-workers and community members in attendance, including Sister Judith Keith, former president and CEO of Mercy Fort Smith, who led the efforts to bring the hospital to its current location in 1974.

“The ER and ICU you designed 50 years ago has served us incredibly well,” Gehrig told Sister Judith. “We’re building upon the vision you had to move this entire campus here. She was a visionary, because look at what this community has done since moving here.”

Dr. Paul Bean, chief medical officer at Mercy Fort Smith, said he recently reflected on the project as it was first discussed a decade ago.

“It’s unbelievable to be here, and at this point it’s almost a reality,” he said. “It’s overwhelming to me to think about all the work that’s gone into this. It’s going to fundamentally change the way we provide care for our patients. Our physicians, our nurses, our staff, they do a tremendous job caring for patients, but this is going to allow them to do it in a first-class facility. It’s going to make a difference in the way we approach and provide care, and it’s going to help our patients receive better care.

Mercy doctor's coat Mercy Fort Smith's ER team holds the final beam ahead of the topping out ceremony.

"Our patients are at the center of everything we do; we’re here to serve them just as the Sisters of Mercy before us were called to provide care.”

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. It includes a building automation system that will, at the push of a button, use 100% outside air in “pandemic” mode on a floor-by-floor basis.

Dr. Aaron Bull, director of emergency services, said this was an exciting day for all involved.

“Take a look at this building,” he said. “This went from a hole in the parking lot to what we see now, and it’s just going to keep getting better as we approach the day when we get to cut the ribbon and start seeing our patients out here.”

McCarthy provided some interesting facts and figures that show the enormity of the project. The new structure includes:

  • 450,000 square feet of flat finished concrete.
  • 25 miles’ worth of rebar support.
  • 300 tons of structural steel.
  • 284 miles of electrical wiring.
  • Three miles of groundwater piping.

Mercy broke ground on the project in February 2022 and anticipates its completion in spring 2025.

“The team’s done a remarkable job,” Gehrig said. “We’re looking at having it done a year from now. Reality check for our team – we are in major planning mode, because it will be here before you know it.”