1) Baptist Memorial is coming to town

By the Evening Times News Staff news@theeveningtimes.com

Calling it a “home run” for Crittenden County, County Judge Woody Wheeless announced a deal just before Christmas with Baptist Memorial Health Care to build a new $25 million, 50,000 square foot, 15-to-20 bed hospital. With the Ameris deal dead in the water, county residents were becoming quite anxious about the future of local health care service. “This has been a long journey,” Wheeless said during a special Quorum Court meeting. “We’ve worked extremely hard in the past 14 months and I think what we are presenting to the public is a home run that will get us decades ahead with health care in Crittenden County.” The cost to build the new facility will be covered by the one cent sales tax which voters approved overwhelmingly last July. The tax is set to start being collected Jan. 1 and would generate $30 million over the next five years. The partnership with Baptist was welcome news for county officials after a deal with Ameris Health Systems to invest $15 million to re-open the emergency room at the former Crittenden Regional Hospital fell through over confusion about what the tax money could be used for. Crittenden Regional Hospital closed its doors August 2014 and declared bankruptcy. Voters will, however, have to return to the polls on March 1 during the primary election to approve amending the language of the original tax to allow the money to be redirected to building a new facility. The tax money will be used to pay for construction, equipment and maintenance. “The point is to fund bonds that will be used to construct a new facility and to the extent there is money left over from that sales tax to fund the maintenance of the facility,” said County Attorney Joe Rogers. Construction would begin in July 2016 and would open in Jan. 2018. Baptist is the largest private, health care provider in the region with over 2,000 beds. The $2 billion non-profit health care system operates 14 hospitals in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi and has over 4,500 affiliated physicians. Its flagship hospital is the 750 bed Baptist Memorial in Memphis. 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. “Baptist supports the need for a hospital in Crittenden County and we are looking forward to providing one.,” Little said. “ It will be a new state-of-the-art facility that will meet all of the needs of the community and its citizens.” Justices approved a memorandum of understanding with Baptist which calls for a 25 year lease with two five-year extensions. Baptist will buy the land and pick the location and lease the ground to the county for $1 a year. Baptist would have the option to buy the facility from the county after 10 years. 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. We felt it was very important not to go into a 300,000 square foot building and try to build it inside and have a whole bunch of old buildings surrounding it. 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.” “We’ll make the citizens of Crittenden County proud,” said Baptist Memorial Hospital System CEO Jason Little. “We’ve assessed the facilities that you have and the facilities you need.” Little said offering a wide spectrum of care to county residents was more important than a huge campus and big bed count. Dick Cowart Baptist legal counsel compared the new hospital idea to the old hospital service. A site for the new hospital has not been announced, but Baptist officials say they will “do a study and decide where the best central location is.”

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