Our View: Old hospital building needs to be dealt with quickly, properly

Now that Judge Woody Wheeless has managed to pull this deal off with Baptist to build a brand new hospital just off the north side of Seventh Street, we expect any realistic hope for salvaging the old Tyler Street hospital is very unlikely. Wheeless, as many of us know, has been hopeful that possibly the old hospital facility could be of some interest to the Veterans Administration in that the VA has made agreements to utilize former hospital facilities to care for veterans. It appears the VA officials who have talked with Wheeless are not interested in the West Memphis facility which means that as of the end of February the electricity will be turned off and no longer will there be on-site security. Since the hospital closed due to bankruptcy in August 2014 Judge Wheeless has been spending an estimated $100,000 a month to pay for utilities and security in hopes he could find a suitable primary care provider willing to re-open the old hospital. With Ameris backing out of the first deal and now Baptist saying they want a new facility it now appears the Tyler Street facility that was originally opened in 1954 will be shuttered. Here is how we view the situation. Judge Wheeless, county quorum court justices and, more importantly, the taxpaying citizens of Crittenden County, had this situation dumped in their laps when the previous Crittenden Regional Hospital powers-to-be suddenly decided to walk out the doors and file bankruptcy. This was after the old hospital promoters convinced voters to pass a penny sales tax, telling taxpayers the money would be used keep the hospital doors open and the much-needed emergency room functioning. Let’s face the fact that this entire costly situation has been a very bitter pill to swallow and the final chapter has a bitter sweet ending. While most of us are anxious to visualize a brand new hospital facility the boarding up of the old hospital will be just another major eyesore in West Memphis. There have been many questions asked as to just exactly what West Memphis officials have done that possibly could have prevented this from occurring. Let’s all face the fact that this is a big building, and once boarded up it will become a prime target for loiters, burglars and vandals. This abandoned facility, located just around the block from West Memphis City Hall and the civic auditorium will certainly become an eyesore that we would certainly think elected officials and city leaders would not want in their own backyard especially when potential investors and important visitors come to town to see what this city has to offer. We would certainly think that while West Memphis apparently had little whatsoever to do to assist Crittenden County officials in seeking an occupant for this old and abandoned hospital facility they would now be concerned as to its future. It would behoove this city’s visionaries to take very seriously what negative impact this major eyesore can have on the image of this city.

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