Hospitals Duel Over ER Care In Arkansas

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Mar. 24, 2008 12:00 am  

Lynn Weaks, CEO of Arkansas Surgical Hospital, said the hospital meets all the regulatory requirements by having registered nurses on-site 24 hours a day, and doctors are on call if they're not at the hospital.

The American Hospital Association, though, doesn't believe that a hospital with one emergency room bed should be considered a hospital.

"When you only have one bed in an emergency department, the chances are pretty good that you've not got it staffed," said Ellen Pryga, director of policy for the AHA. "It's basically a room with a closed door and the lights off. And part of the problem with that is it really is holding that organization out as having a capability that they don't have."

The Arkansas Department of Health has awarded the Surgical Hospital a license to operate as a hospital.

"We believe that they meet the requirements to be licensed," said Ed Barham, a spokesman for the Department of Health. "I'm not sure what else we can legally say. It's Arkansas law."

Jon Swanson, executive director of MEMS, said his ambulance service doesn't take emergency patients to Arkansas Surgical Hospital because it doesn't have a physician on staff all the time.

And that baffles Doug Weeks, the administrator at Baptist Health.

If MEMS "is required to take patients to the most appropriate, closest facility  then I don't understand why they've never gone there," Weeks said. 

"I think that's the intent of the rules and regs of the Arkansas Department of Health. If there's a facility in town that doesn't get any patients from MEMS, something seems amiss related to the rules and regulations of the Health Department," Weeks said.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center also has a problem with hospitals that are licensed as a hospital but don't take emergency patients.

"There is a sizable task of taking care of the emergency medical needs of the citizens of central Arkansas, including those who come to us via ambulance," said R.T. Fendley, senior associate hospital director for UAMS, in an e-mail statement to Arkansas Business "This responsibility is shared by the acute care hospitals in the region. UAMS views it as unfair for any facility to be licensed as a hospital without assuming a share of this responsibility."

The Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Department doesn't consider the Arkansas Surgical Hospital to be a true hospital and refused a request to put up blue hospital signs on Interstate 430 and Interstate 40 indicating its location in North Little Rock.

"They do have what they term as an emergency room at that hospital," Highway Department spokesman Randy Ort said. "But our policy states that a hospital has to be a 24-hour emergency treatment facility with a physician on duty within the emergency department."



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