Details emerge on plans for new county hospital

15-20 beds, ER, more planned for Baptist facility

By Mark Randall news@theeveningtimes.com

[Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series of stories about the new agreement between Crittenden County and Baptist Memorial Health Care] Calling it a “home run” for Crittenden County, County Judge Woody Wheeless announced a deal with Baptist Memorial Health Care to build a new $25 million, 50,000-square-foot, 15-to-20 bed hospital. Dick Cowart, legal counsel for Baptist, said they looked at the existing hospital building and determined that it was too old and would be too costly to update to suit their needs. “It is so big and so sprawling that it is really inefficient,” Cowart said. “The utilities are hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. You really have to make it sustainable to what you are doing … this needs a fresh start. So our decision was that there needed to be a new building designed for what is needed now and based on future trends.” Cowart said they looked at data for Crittenden County and determined that the new facility would support 15 to 20 beds. The new hospital will have a strong emergency room, inpatient nursing capability, outpatient surgery, radiology, diagnostic lab, and cancer treatment. CRH had 23,000 visits to the emergency room, according to the data they compiled. “All of those have been built into the facility,” Cowart said. “And being part of a regional based system gives you both community access plus the sophistication of broader services. And it can be bigger if the public will support it. We believe this is sustainable.” Baptist president and CEO Jason Little said he was pleased with the chance to partner with the county to provide much needed health care services and added that they expect to grow the hospital over time. They have access to 250 doctors in Memphis who could use the hospital and see patients. “One of the strengths we can bring to you is we have the ability to bring them and their practices to Crittenden County,” Little said. Justice Vickie Robertson raised concerns about the county not owning the land and brought the fact that the county owned the existing hospital, but not one of the parking lots. “Why would Baptist want to own the land?” Robertson asked. “Couldn’t we just use the money from the tax to buy it? If Baptist for some reason down the line decided they didn’t want the hospital any more, we would be tied to Baptist. If we own the land and we own the building, there would be no confusion.” Cowart said they feel strongly about the need to buy the land and select the site in order to avoid “real estate politics.” Baptist got into a three year legal fight with Oxford that went all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court because rival developers and politics stalled the project. “We picked a site we thought was best,” Cowart said. “They decided to bring lawsuits over it. It is a lesson learned and we are not going to go through that again.” “We’re dealing from a bad experience as well,” Robertson added. Baptist agreed to sell the land back to the county at cost. “That would solve our problem,” Justice Lisa O’Neal said. Justice Stacey Allen also expressed a concern about where it would be built. “Do you plan on keeping it in West Memphis?” Allen asked. “It has yet to be determined,” Little responded. “But that is our plan, And in the documents you will have the approval right.” The memorandum of understanding passed 8-2 with Robertson and Allen passing. Robertson and Allen also voted against amending the tax. The resolution sending the measure back to the voters passed with only Allen voting against it. “I need to see all of the details first,” Allen said. “We just got our packet (Thursday). And I need to know the location. That is important to me.” Robertson said she also felt she did not have enough details to vote in favor of the agreement at this time. “It was just too much and we didn’t have enough time to study it,” Robertson said. “I like the idea of Baptist. But I’d like to take some time and review it and really mull it over. We haven’t had any meetings. With Ameris, we had several public meetings before it came to a vote.” The Quorum Court will need to approve the final agreement by Feb. 1. Wheeless said he is thrilled to be partnering with Baptist. “This is a great day for Crittenden County,” Wheeless said. “We’re teaming up with a major player in the Mid-South area and will be able to get a hospital back for us to have reliable, dependable healthcare in our community again.”

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