Baptist officials take questions from the public

Hospital services, employment on residents’ minds By John Rech news@theeveningtimes.com On the eve of early voting, Baptist Hospital representatives laid out the scope of their proposed hospital to citizens from across the county attending a public meeting in West Memphis. The prospects for a new hospital rest entirely on voters affirming the deal by redirecting the 1-percent hospital sales tax to fund Baptist’s $25 million building project and related county expenses. The 5-year tax is expected to generate more than $30 million. Baptist attorney Greg Duckett made an identical presentation to the audience that Quorum Court heard earlier in the month. “We have an option to purchase land in West Memphis that all hinges on the election,” said Duckett. “If you want the hospital, you have to vote for the tax.” Twice before, the tax passed with 85 percent of the vote. The first time, the sales tax aimed to bail out the now defunct Crittenden Regional Hospital. The tax was again affirmed by voters after being refocused to suit the Ameris investors, a deal that failed to materialize after Ameris walked away. Early voting has begun regarding the third version of the same one-cent sales tax that, along with a vote for a hospital bond, would secure funding for a Baptist Memorial Systems hospital. Duckett told the crowd that Baptist had conducted a preliminary information session with the Crittenden County Medical Society. “Frankly, it was a surprisingly well-attended meeting,” said Duckett. “I wasn’t there but I want you to know it was standing room only with lots of questions. That really speaks well of the medical community here.” But this group asked for more details regarding employment, labor and delivery capabilities. Baptist Memorial Health Care Vice-president of Government Relations Keith Norman talked about the local economic impact. He had employment statistics in hand for the other 14 hospitals in the Baptist Memorial system. Norman indicated that since the entire scope of services would depend on local physician participation that an exact number of jobs could not yet be projected but offered data on all 14 Baptist Hospitals. The proposed Baptist-Crittenden is expected to have about two dozen beds initially, which is smaller than any of their other facilities. Scope of services vary among these locations and from the community hospital under consideration in West Memphis. Three examples from the literature Norman presented: • Located in Memphis, Baptist Restorative is a different kind of facility but has 30 beds, producing 85 jobs and 10.4 million in payroll. • The Collierville Hospital has a little more than three times as many beds as the one voters are considering here. Approximately 725 staff the eastern Shelby County hospital sharing $93.5 in payroll. • Baptist-Hundington has 70 beds with 15O full-time equivalent employees with $6 million in salaries. Dr. Robert Chinn sat front and center then lead off the question and answer period with a series of questions relating to his obstetrics practice. With no initial plans for labor and delivery, Chinn wondered if the plan was to funnel patients to Baptist NEA in Jonesboro, to the Women’s Center, or Regional One. Duckett said a threshold had to be met to make maternity viable. “We have to have 600 births a year to support that,” said Duckett. “We don’t have the numbers to support that. When the last hospital closed the numbers for their last two year’s of operation went away; they are unavailable.” Duckett got to the practical matter after more questions and scenarios from the audience and indicated that even a cesarean could be performed at the hospital. “If a woman presents in labor at our ER we’d deliver here,” he said.

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