Crittenden County Hopes to Build New $21M Hospital

Crittenden County Hopes to Build New $21M Hospital
Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless outside the shuttered Crittenden Regional Hospital. County officials want to replace the hospital with a new facility.

If Crittenden County voters approve a tax measure on March 1, an approximately $21 million hospital will be built to replace the bankrupt Crittenden Regional Hospital, which has been closed since September 2014.

Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless told Arkansas Business last week that Baptist Memorial Health Care of Memphis has agreed to partner with the county to operate the hospital if voters approve the reallocation of a 1 percent sales tax that was approved in July.

The revenue of the tax was supposed to be used by Ameris Health of Nashville, Tennessee, which had planned to reopen the hospital. But that plan was quietly scrapped in September.

Wheeless said more details about the new hospital will be released after election. If the proposal is approved, he expects ground to be broken in July and the project to be completed in about 18 months. Wheeless said the response so far has been “overwhelmingly positive” for the new hospital.

He said voters will be asked two questions on March 1. The first will be to redirect the tax money that began being collecting on Jan. 1 for the hospital’s maintenance to be used instead for the construction of a new facility. The tax, which will sunset after five years, is expected to generate between $25 million and $30 million during that period. Voters also will be asked to approve the county using the tax revenue to pay for bonds that would be issued to cover construction costs.

Baptist Memorial said in an email statement to Arkansas Business that it expects the voters to support the tax.

“We are hopeful that the citizens of Crittenden County will decide to reallocate the money that has already been approved on two separate occasions,” said Ashley Bowles, a Baptist Memorial spokeswoman. “Since the last two votes were overwhelmingly in favor of tax support for the old hospital, we are optimistic that the citizens will be even more enthusiastic about spending the previously approved dollars on a brand new facility.”

Bowles said that part of Baptist Memorial’s mission is to provide care close to patients’ homes.

“With the opening of a new hospital, residents will have close, equal access to health care regardless of their ability to pay,” she said.

Crittenden County thought it had a deal with Ameris Health to reopen the 140-bed West Memphis hospital.

“We discovered that the tax could not be used for anything except maintenance of the facility and the equipment there,” Ameris CEO Robert Bauer said last week in a voice message to Arkansas Business. “We weren’t going to be able to use the full amount of the tax during the five-year period, so the numbers don’t work. None of our investors would even take a look at it based on the lack of having access to the full amount.”

The county had been scrambling to reopen Crittenden Regional since it abruptly closed in 2014 and then filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Before the hospital closed, 86 percent of voters had approved in June 2014 a 1 percent sales tax to fund the hospital. The hospital said it would use the money to recruit doctors and renovate the emergency department and inpatient rooms.

But then it abruptly shut its doors because it didn’t have enough money to operate. The Crittenden Hospital Association reported $33.3 million in debts and $27.75 million in assets when it filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy remained opened as of last week.

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