Rural Hospitals: Vital to the Economy


Rural Hospitals: Vital to the Economy
Dr. Shaletha Jones, right, a family medicine doctor and hospitalist at Ouachita County Medical Center, talks with a mock patient as Paige Garcia, a registered nurse, takes vitals. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, surgeries at the hospital were down 34%. (Karen E. Segrave)

The health of rural hospitals in Arkansas is an economic development issue, as Senior Editor Mark Friedman’s story about Ouachita County Medical Center in Camden makes clear.

As Ouachita County Judge Robert McAdoo noted, the hospital is a top selling point. “When a company’s deciding to come to the industrial park, one of the first questions I’m asked about is the hospital,” McAdoo said.

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And in OCMC’s case, an argument can be made that not only is the viability of the hospital an economic development issue, it’s a national security concern. Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne, vital to U.S. security interests, occupy Highland Industry Park in East Camden and employ most of the region’s 3,500 defense workers — workers who need the care that only a good local hospital can provide.

Hospitals are struggling for a number of reasons, one of them being that they haven’t received an increase in outpatient rates from Medicaid since 1992, nor have they received any increase in inpatient Medicaid rates since 2007. But that might change since the state is now working with the Arkansas Hospital Association on a rate review with recommendations expected by the end of the year. 

The next governor must pay attention to the health of rural hospitals as both an economic development issue and, at least in the case of OCMC, a national security issue.


The announcement that Highbar LLC plans to build a $500 million rebar steel mini mill in the Osceola area shows that the vision of state and regional economic development officials of northeast Arkansas as a steelmaking mecca continues to bear real results. Welcome.

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