Competing With the State


Competing With the State
(Photo Illustration)

There’s something fundamentally unfair about taxpayer-supported entities competing with private businesses and nonprofits, nor is using tax money to mitigate a poor business decision a wise use of public resources.

But that’s certainly what seems to be happening in Conway, where Conway Regional Health System says Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway is cutting into its business. As detailed in Senior Editor Mark Friedman’s Page 1 story, UAMS Shakes Up Conway Hospital Rivalry, BHMC-Conway is using doctors from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to staff its ER and orthopedic services. Matthew Troup, president and CEO of the nonprofit Conway Regional, sums up the situation nicely: “It turned UAMS from an educator into a competitor. It tilts the scales to support a business decision that Baptist made.”

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Troup says Baptist’s Conway hospital has cost Conway Regional about $13 million in patient revenue.

Baptist says the new hospital, opened in 2016, is performing as expected despite continuing operating losses. And UAMS says providing doctors to Baptist’s Conway hospital helps “relieve some of our capacity constraints in Little Rock and extend our education mission.”

In addition to fairness, there’s also an issue of accountability and transparency. Despite its taxpayer-supported status, UAMS refused to reveal exactly how much Baptist Health is paying for the services of its doctors. A UAMS spokesman said the revenue fell under the competitive advantage exemption of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Curiously, an FOI request by Arkansas Business turned up no communication concerning the negotiations between UAMS and Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway on the contracts for the services UAMS is providing. We’re apparently supposed to believe that the contracts negotiated themselves.

Health care is expensive, and that makes ensuring that taxpayer money used to provide it is spent wisely even more important. We question whether that’s happening in Conway.