Our View: What fate awaits the old hospital?

Now that it appears Crittenden County taxpayers will be footing the bill for a brand new hospital, they just might want to know what will become of what was once known as Crittenden Regional Hospital, an empty three story, block long, brick and concrete building in West Memphis that they have sunk thousands upon thousands of dollars in to pay utilities, security and maintenance in hopes it will attract a tenant. While Crittenden County property owners are still paying a hospital ad valorem tax, taxpayers have also committed to a penny sales tax that was originally passed to be used for the now abandoned hospital on Tyler Street in West Memphis. But, when Ameris Health Systems, LLC reneged on its promise to take over the old hospital, it left Crittenden County taxpayers holding the bag and County Judge Woody Wheeless scrambling to find a primary health care provider willing to locate here. The good news is that Wheeless seems to have worked a deal with Baptist Memorial Health Care to take charge of a new hospital that taxpayers will build using proceeds from the already approved sales tax, the question now is what will become of the old hospital, which still belongs to Crittenden County. Rumor has it that Wheeless is trying to work a deal with nursing home facilitators, using a portion of the old hospital as a clinic to be leased to private physicians or even a center for maybe veteran health services. While voters must soon approve using the tax dollars they approved to build a new hospital instead of dumping it into the old hospital we would suspect taxpayers won’t be left on the hook to keep the lights or pay for maintenance at the Tyler location. Let us remember that Crittenden Regional Hospital was more than $20 million in debt when it was abandoned and its scores of employees shuffled out the doors left scrambling in search for new jobs. We’re told that debt has been satisfied. Just maybe Judge Wheeless can get lucky like what has been happening in El Dorado just recently where city officials handed over its old Warner Brown hospital for a mere $10 to a Virginia-based real estate developer. So seems this developer discussed plans for the building saying he has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to open a 10,000 square foot clinic in a portion of the complex. The facility will also be used for senior citizen services, including assisted living and acute nursing care for the remainder of the space. We bring this issue up at this time because we believe that Judge Wheeless already has a plan in progress that specifically relates to a possible occupant of this old hospital, and we feel that within the next few weeks we hope to be pleasantly surprised as to the details of this final chapter regarding this situation.

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