Foundation Announces Plans to Buy Hospital

The Sharp Medical Foundation said last week it will buy the closed Eastern Ozarks Regional Health System in Cherokee Village for $4 million. It also will spend another $4 million getting it ready for its opening this summer or in the fall.

But before the sale can close, Sharp County residents will have to pass a sales tax to be used to buy and support the hospital, which will be owned by the county, said Jay Torbit, the chairman of the Sharp Medical Foundation.

In addition to the sales tax, the foundation is also accepting donations.

If voters reject the tax, the hospital sale won't go through, he said.

Torbit said Sharp County will have to spend about $1.5 million to bring the hospital up to code and another $2.5 million for medical equipment.

The 40-bed hospital shut its doors in November, leaving about 110 employees out of work. Since the closure, Sharp County officials, business leaders and residents formed the Sharp Medical Foundation to open a hospital to the county.

Other health care firms have looked at the hospital, but one of the sticking points has been the $1 million-$2 million needed to get the hospital back up to code.

In November, the Arkansas Department of Health found at least 33 possible violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, based on the hospital's inability to provide emergency services.

If the negotiations to buy the hospital had failed, the foundation would have pushed for the construction of a new hospital, Torbit said. But that would have cost around $14 million and taken up to three years.

"We need a hospital in this area," he said.

To help alleviate the current lack of health care in the county, White River Medical Center at Batesville opened an after-hours clinic in Sharp County on Jan. 8. Still, Sharp County residents have to travel 25-35 minutes to the nearest hospital, which is in Salem.

Torbit said the county will lease the hospital to WRMC and the Sharp Medical Foundation to operate it.