The closure Wednesday of North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville has left the Pulaski County city without an emergency room and, in its place, confusing statements about the hospital's future.
Allegiance Health Management Inc. of Shreveport, Louisiana, owns the hospital and has managed it since 2009. It purchased the hospital property at 1400 Braden St. in 2012. An employee who answered the phone at its Shreveport headquarters on Wednesday said Allegiance no longer manages North Metro.
Jacksonville Mayor Bob Johnson told Arkansas Business on Thursday that Allegiance is "basically becoming a landlord."
"I'm working with other hospitals to rent the emergency room and imaging and that sort of thing, and maybe other parts, but, yeah, I'm working on it," he continued. "I haven't got it done yet, but I'm getting closer every day."
Johnson added, "I think we need an emergency room. We need all this stuff. We need it to happen. My concern is the 30,000 citizens who don't have an emergency room now. ... I'm not saying I'm not working on the rest of it. I am working on the rest of it, too, but my first step is an emergency room."
North Metro CEO Dale Anderson confirmed the closure in an email to Arkansas Business on Wednesday. Reached by phone for more information on Thursday, Anderson referred a reporter to a news release about changes at the hospital.
"As a result of industry declining hospital revenues and in-patient volumes, NMMC Management is well on its way to putting the pieces together, utilizing a 'Micro Hospital Model Hybrid,' a new way to deliver high quality, cost effective, sustainable healthcare services," the release said.
The release said the company is negotiating with the city "to enable an area hospital system to operate a free-standing Emergency Room" with ancillary services such as radiology, lab and pharmacy plus a "teaching" element.
The news release seemed to indicate that Allegiance would focus on operating a facility offering ARcare and home health services. It also mentioned Freedom Behavioral Hospital of Central Arkansas LLC. The mayor said Allegiance is "leasing part of the hospital to [Freedom] for a geriatric psych unit." That is the only on-site operation at North Metro right now, Johnson said.
A state Department spokesman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the hospital's licensure changed Tuesday from an acute-care hospital to a psychiatric hospital.
North Metro ranked No. 43 of 80 hospitals on Arkansas Business' 2019 "Largest Hospitals & Medical Centers" list. It had net patient revenue of $25.3 million and a net loss of $5.3 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017.
North Metro's closure is the latest in a string of troubles for Arkansas hospitals owned by Allegiance.
North Metro has been plagued since at least 2015 with tax liens, vendor lawsuits and a revolving door of administrators.
Earlier this year, Conway Regional Health System assumed management of Dardanelle Hospital, formerly known as River Valley Medical Center. Allegiance had been leasing River Valley and was sued for allegedly failing to pay rent over several months.
There has also been a financial dispute over lease payments and provider reimbursements involving Eureka Springs Hospital, another Arkansas hospital that Allegiance operates, often at a net loss.