Alma Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center has already begun the first of a three-phase expansion that will include the addition of a rehabilitation gym and an entire wing dedicated to short-term rehabilitation patients.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the new remodel and expansion is set for Thursday at 10 a.m. The expansion is expected to add 15-20 new jobs in the Alma area, said Debbie Fort, administrator for Alma Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center.

"For the community of Alma, it’s a big thing because there’s not a lot of expansion and industry going on right now," Fort said.

Phase one of the expansion will be the addition of a wing for private short-term patient rooms with personal bathrooms included.

A new gymnasium for rehabilitation will be part of the second phase, along with offices and a private dining area for the short-term patients. The final phase will be the inclusion of more outside parking.

A total of 10,800 square feet will be added to the existing building, which will itself be remodeled and 10 licensed beds will be added, Fort said.

Cornerstone Healthcare, Alma’s parent company, opted for the expansion based on need, Fort said. Alma Healthcare has been at least 85 percent occupied by patients since it opened, she said.

"It’s only 70 beds so it’s relatively small," Fort said.

Alma Healthcare is "much more than just a nursing home," Fort said. A number of services are currently offered by the healthcare center, including pain management, physical therapy, hospice, counseling and 24-hour nursing.

About 10 to 15 patients are discharged each month from its short-term rehabilitation program. It has 15 currently in the program, with rehabilitation lasting from 20 to 100 days, she said.

"Acute rehab facilities don’t really accommodate those getting on in years because [their rehabilitation] can take a little longer," Fort said.

Many of those patients are recovering from a fracture or stroke, but do not require assisted living or long-term care. Fort said the work of the facility was to "enhance life and get everyone up to an optimum level of functioning."

Physical, occupational, and speech therapies will be part of services offered in the new addition. Therapy will be offered not only to long-term and short-term patients, but on an outpatient basis as well, Fort said.

Outpatient services will be offered during daytime hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., though they may be extended if necessary to meet demand, Fort said. An outside entrance will offer direct access to the gym, she said.

Fort stressed that the therapies are individualized for each patient, calling the new rehabilitation center the "first of its kind" in Crawford County. Because of outpatient services and private rooms for short-term patients, area residents will have the medical services they need without lengthy visits.

The Alma Area Chamber of Commerce is assisting with Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony. Alma Healthcare was chosen as "Business of the Year" at the Chamber’s annual banquet held in January.

"The voting on that particular award was overwhelming," said Lisa­Marie Norris, executive director of the Alma Area Chamber of Commerce. "Alma Healthcare and Rehabilitation is a huge part of our community; ­­ they have hosted meals for school teams, donated money, time and effort to Chamber programs and have been a premier level sponsor of the Chamber for several years."

Job openings at the center include positions for a registered nurse, several certified nursing assistants, therapists and janitorial services. Applications are being accepted, Fort said.

"Expanding existing businesses is the heart and soul of economic development," Norris said. "Twenty new jobs in Alma, and especially such high­ quality jobs from a top ­shelf employer, is fantastic economic development news for the entire region."

Many residents and employees are local, Fort said, as are many of the contractors that will be working on the new expansion. Included are Guest Reddick Architects from Fort Smith, Myers­Beatty Engineers from Van Buren, HSA Engineering Consulting Services, Inc. from Fort Smith and CR Crawford Construction from Fayetteville.

Cornerstone Healthcare is owned by Allen Kilgore from Rogers, Arkansas.

Open to the public, the groundbreaking event Thursday will include a performance with bells by current residents, as well as a tour of the facility and refreshments.