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Board mulls multimillion Washington Regional expansion in Fayetteville

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Photographs by NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo

Officials turn dirt on Jan. 28, 2016, during a ground breaking for a new medical plaza to be built near Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington Regional Medical Center board members soon will decide whether to pursue a $43 million renovation and construction project to improve services for heart, stroke and trauma patients.

"It's ambitious, but, again, in my opinion, it needs to be done to meet our standards in how we want to take care of our patients," said Bill Bradley, hospital CEO and president.

Washington Regional Medical Center growth

The hospital recently finished major projects started in 2015, including the Women and Infants Center. The five-story, 132,800-square-foot patient tower has:

• More operating room space

• A significantly larger neonatal intensive care unit, increasing from 12 to 34 NICU beds

• New pediatrics space

• More adult patient rooms

• More clinic space

• A second helipad

• 350-space parking deck

• 68 private rooms

Source: Washington Regional Medical Center

Bradley presented board members with a proposal to increase space and technology at the hospital during the monthly board meeting Tuesday. The recommendation includes ways to reduce wait times and increase training at the hospital.

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Bradley said the hospital needs the renovation and expansion to meet a growing demand and to stay on the cutting edge. The project would add 23,850 square feet of construction, spokeswoman Rachelle Younce said in email. That constitutes about 52 percent of the overall project, officials said.

Hospital officials said an example of growth is acute-care admissions increasing 13 percent so far this year over last year. There were 1,360 acute admissions to the hospital in April. Recently, the hospital had to divert patients because of lack of space, said M. Gareth Eck, a board member.

"We expected to grow, but we haven't expected to grow at the rate or pace we have," said Bradley, who retires in September.

The newest construction project would reduce wait times and open up much-needed space, officials said.

The project, done in phases, would make space in the catheterization laboratory and operating rooms, add about 20 beds to critical care units and improve the hospital's ability to become a certified comprehensive-care stroke facility, officials said.

The upgrade would add a special room, partly, for a robot for heart surgeries, officials said.

Bradley said construction wouldn't impede the hospital's everyday operations.

"Meeting these challenges has required us to invest in growing our facilities and services to respond to the community's needs," Bradley said in email Thursday. "Over the next 30 to 60 days, we hope to finalize a plan to renovate and re-purpose some of our core space with the goal of having it operational within about 18 months after starting."

Washington Regional can afford the proposal because income has steadily increased, Eck said.

Financial records show the hospital has about $21 million in revenue over expenditures so far this year.

The renovation is an investment likely will pay for itself, Eck said.

The construction part of the project would be paid for with about $30 million in 30-year bonds, according to a presentation during the meeting. Other bonds would cover costs for equipment and furnishings.

The expansion is on top of multimillion dollar improvements approved separately Tuesday.

The board decided to build a billing and educational facility for $5.5 million by using a tax-exempt bond through Washington County.

They also decided to finish a section of the Women and Infants Center that would add 18 beds for roughly $1.3 million. The five-story center opened last year and has 34 neonatal intensive care beds, many of them in private rooms, instead of the former 12 that shared one large room. Eck said the added beds will mean more space in other areas of the hospital.

The hospital recently finished a 66,300-square-foot building across Appleby Road for urgent care, family practice and other specialty clinics. The center and the medical building were an investment of roughly $86 million, Bradley said previously.

Eck said he hasn't decided whether to support the major expansion plan, but the hospital should be proactive. He and other members said they needed more information, which likely will be presented next month. Changes are likely before the project is approved.

"Overall, it sounds like (expansion) would be necessary for Washington Regional to keep us on the cutting edge of technology," Eck said.

NW News on 05/19/2017

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