Sharp County Looks to Reopen Hospital

Sharp County Judge Harold Crawford is scrambling to reopen Eastern Ozarks Regional Health System in Ash Flat.

The 40-bed hospital suddenly shut its doors last month, leaving 110 employees out of work. Crawford said the employees didn't receive their last paycheck.

Crawford said he has been assisting in negotiations with several companies to buy the hospital, which has a selling price of around $4 million.

The sticking point has been that the new owner will have to spend $1 million-$2 million 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, according to a report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Dallas.

The hospital could have faced fines of up to $50,000 per violation, but it voluntarily terminated its hospital license.

Eastern Ozarks owner Robert Becht did not return a call for comment.

Crawford said the hospital could be reopened, but the violations would have to be corrected first. Crawford said the hospital had been declining for a while because money wasn't being reinvested in it.

While negotiations are being conducted, Crawford also has appointed a task force to try and solve the county's health care problem.

The task force is looking at the option of opening a 24-hour critical care facility, where the injured could be stabilized before being moved to a hospital. The task force also will continue to woo other health care providers into taking over Eastern Ozarks. The third option is for the county to build its own hospital, he said.

"It's so crucial" for the county to have its own hospital, Crawford said.

Not only is it vital to have emergency services for residents, but the county's economy could be hurt without a hospital.

"If you're a retired couple looking for a place to retire ... that hospital means a lot to you," Crawford said. "And businesses, they want a hospital for their employees. ... So we got to work real hard to correct this."