Jefferson Regional Medical Center — Pine Bluff’s nonprofit hospital operated by Jefferson Hospital Association Inc. — is one of the major sources of jobs for an area that has suffered from loss of industry, plummeting population and spiking crime.
“It helps all of southeast Arkansas,” said Lou Ann Nisbett, president and CEO of the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County. “It’s a huge impact for our community.”
Nisbett said the only private employer in the area that comes close to JRMC is Tyson Foods Inc., which employs about 1,500. JRMC provides about 1,800 jobs.
A total of 20.6 percent of non-farming jobs in Jefferson County areg in health care; only the government provides more jobs at 25.1 percent, said JRMC President and CEO Walter Johnson. Average hourly wages are $24.22 at JRMC; the average for Pine Bluff is $14.10.
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Johnson said the population problems in the area have been a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.
“The declining population has obviously had an effect on recruiting and retaining health care professionals, and on the number of patients that come to us for care,” he said. “However, JRMC hasn’t been affected significantly, partly because our aging population has counterbalanced the decline in population.”
South Arkansas, he said, historically has had difficulty in recruiting medical professionals who are willing to uproot themselves. At the same time, many are attracted to working at a smaller hospital in an area with great need.
“The situation doesn’t diminish the needs of the people who are here, and many physicians find it rewarding to work in a community like ours, where they don’t have the competition of a large city and they can practice true general medicine, treating all ages and all types of conditions,” Johnson said. “Interestingly enough, while the decline in population is projected to continue, there are actually pockets of south Arkansas in our service area that are projected to grow in population over the next few years.”
Besides its 125 independent physicians, JRMC employs 774 nurses, 99 professional support staff, 83 managers, 69 coordinators and supervisors, 262 clinical technicians, therapists and pharmacists and 534 clerical and support staff.
Financially, JRMC’s net patient revenue last year was $183 million, and gross revenue was about $685 million, Johnson said. Of that, $310 million represented inpatients, $330 million represented outpatients and $10 million represented other types of income.
“JRMC is also the sole community hospital and never turns anyone away because of inability to pay,” Johnson said. He said caring for uninsured or underinsured patients cost $16 million last year.
In 2011 JRMC gave $306,700 to community organizations like Pine Bluff Downtown Development, United Way, Habitat for Humanity and others. It spent $217,047 on health fairs. The largest gift JRMC has ever made, Johnson said, was a $1 million contribution to the chamber in 2008, the hospital’s 100th year. The gift included funding for healthy lifestyle grants, health assessments, screenings, outreach and educational programs.
Last year, the hospital had 11,000 admissions, 56,000 patient days, 7,600 surgeries, 65,000 outpatient procedures, 55,000 ER visits and 100,000 clinic visits in Pine Bluff and south Arkansas.
(To learn more about JRMC’s beginnings, see A Brief History of Jefferson Regional Medical Center.)
‘The Latest Technology’
“What’s nice, too, about the hospital is they do an excellent job of maintaining and staying up on the latest technology,” Nisbett said. “They have a beautiful facility, inside and out. They just completed renovations on their wellness center there at the hospital in Pine Bluff.”
“We are one of the first hospitals in the state of Arkansas to implement an electronic health records system, which eliminates most of the paper trail within the system and allows patients to have electronic access to some of their most important medical records,” Johnson said.
Additionally, JRMC is part of the Arkansas State Health Alliance for Records Exchange, which allows it to exchange health information with other providers. Also, the South Arkansas Referral Network, which is still under construction, will make the referring process faster and easier, he said.
Still, Johnson said, parts of JRMC are aging rapidly and will soon need to be replaced.
“Portions of the building are more than 50 years old, while others are more than 30 years old,” he said. “We are currently working on plans to rebuild or substantially renovate the hospital within the next 10 years.”
As far as other growth areas, Johnson said its outpatient care will continue to grow.
“That trend is already underway, and JRMC will begin moving into more non-traditional settings to provide care, just as other hospitals will be doing,” he said. “Certain therapies and lab work that is currently provided in the hospital will be found more and more frequently in smaller facilities around the community.”
More emphasis, he said, will be placed on preventive care.
The Safety Net
As the hospital grows with technology, it will also have to grow with new health care legislation. However, Johnson said, it’s too early to predict the effects of the state Legislature’s so-called “private option” expansion of Medicaid.
“We do know that more people will be insured, and that could have a positive effect on us, but we don’t know how the entire situation will play out,” he said.
As for the broader effects of the federal Affordable Care Act, Johnson said they could go either way.
“Some models say the outcome will be better; others say it will be worse,” he said. “Hospitals of JRMC’s size and location are referred to as ‘safety net’ hospitals, and we know that some of the safety net reimbursements will be going away, but we don’t know the final composition of the changes.”
Until JRMC is sure what will happen with Medicaid and the private insurance option, Johnson said, projections will be inconclusive.