White River Health System Preps ER for Health Care Reform

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, May. 20, 2013 12:00 am  

Gary Bebow, CEO of White River Health System, says it’s unclear what impact the health care reform will have on the Batesville hospital.  (Photo by Mark Friedman)

White River Health System in Batesville is preparing for the possible rush of patients once health care reform is fully implemented next year.

On Jan. 1, most people will be required to have health care insurance or face penalties under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Gary Bebow, the CEO of the health care organization, is gearing up for that day by pushing forward plans to expand the emergency room of the system’s flagship hospital, White River Medical Center in Batesville.

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The $4.5 million project should start by the end of the year and be completed in 18 months. Once the expansion is complete, the emergency room will have 26 treatment areas and could handle 40,000 patients annually, said Bebow, 63, who has been at White River for 22 years. The hospital currently handles more than 30,000 patients a year with 14 treatment areas, but it was only designed to treat about 20,000 patients a year.

“I certainly think the emergency room is going to be an entry point into the hospital,” as a result of health care reform, said Paul Cunningham, executive vice president of the Arkansas Hospital Association.

Bebow also believes that the emergency room is a great tool for community relations for the hospital.

“If you could provide timely and great medical care, … that really goes a long way for the community to embrace you,” he said.

Still, Bebow is not really sure what the impact of health care reform will be.

“It’s very difficult to predict volumes,” he said in an interview from his office in the hospital last week. “We’re in so many uncharted waters right now.”

The past two years White River Health System’s revenue has remained flat at $170 million for its fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Its revenue, though, is good enough for No. 46 on Arkansas Business’ list of largest private companies ranked by revenue. It was No. 48 on last year’s list and No. 47 on the 2011 list.

White River Health System’s network also includes eight physician clinics mainly in the counties surrounding Independence County and the 25-bed Stone County Medical Center.



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