Crittenden County Hospital Reopening Rests on Vote

Crittenden County Hospital Reopening Rests on Vote
Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless outside the shuttered Crittenden Regional Hospital. | (Photo by Mark Friedman)

Crittenden County residents will go to the polls on Tuesday to vote on a 1 percent sales tax that would be used to reopen the Crittenden Regional Hospital, which closed last year.

Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless told Arkansas Business last week that Ameris Health of Nashville, Tennessee, has agreed to operate the West Memphis hospital if the sales tax is approved to subsidize the hospital.

The tax would sunset after five years and is expected to generate between $25 million and $30 million during that period.

Ameris is expected to operate a smaller hospital than Crittenden Regional, which operated as a 140-bed hospital, Wheeless said, but more services could be added if the demand arises.

Since the hospital closed in September, residents of the county of about 50,000 people are forced to go to Memphis, Jonesboro or Forrest City for their emergency medical care, he said. “With the hospital being closed, it’s put a major burden on emergency services,” Wheeless said.

An ambulance delivering a patient to Memphis could be tied up for up to six hours, he said.

Still, Wheeless said he can’t get a “real good feel” on how residents will vote on Tuesday.

But in June 2014, 86 percent of voters approved a 1 percent sales tax to fund the Crittenden Regional Hospital. The hospital’s bankruptcy filing, however, prevented the money from being collected.

When the Crittenden Hospital Association filed for bankruptcy in September, it reported $33.3 million in debts and $27.75 million in assets.

Most of the hospital equipment is expected to be auctioned off on Aug. 27 at the hospital, according to a filing in the bankruptcy case. Brad Wooley of Little Rock has been hired to handle the auction.

The claims registry in the bankruptcy filing shows 361 claims have been filed for a total amount of $43.6 million.