Crittenden County residents will once again be able to enjoy accessible, local health care with the opening of the new Baptist Memorial Hospital.
A ribbon cutting was held Monday for the 65,000-SF facility that is expected to employ around 100 to 110 and has a blueprint for future expansion. It is scheduled to open Dec. 3, and most of the staff has been hired.
The county has been without a hospital since the former Crittenden County Regional Hospital closed in August 2014.
“You’re not going to run into very many counties across the state of Arkansas that have a population of 50,000 and not have a hospital,” Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless said.
The original hospital, which closed after declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy, employed more than 400 but had been underused, Wheeless said. He noted that only 16 patients had to be evacuated but the facility had been licensed for 150 beds.
“The business wasn’t there. It definitely wasn’t there,” he said.
Wheeless said the data Baptist tried to gather to determine the new facility’s size wasn’t reliable, so while the new hospital will employee fewer people, it was decided it would be better to start small and leave room for expansion.
Funded by a voter-approved, one-cent sales tax, Baptist Memorial has 11 patient rooms, two operating rooms, 10 emergency rooms, a cancer center and two trauma rooms. In the short term, at least, it will not provide OB services and birthing facilities.
Potential expansion plans allow for two more operating rooms and add-on construction where an exit exists in the patient wing. Wheeless said the one-story facility is seen as a model for future county hospitals, according to Baptist officials with whom he has met.
“There was plenty of thought process put into it for the future, so if that expansion were needed they wouldn’t be sitting trying to think how to make it happen,” Wheeless said.
Wheeless said he expected expansion talk to begin within 12 to 18 months of the hospital’s opening. In the meantime, if a patient should need treatment or services the hospital can’t currently provide, they would be transferred across the river to Memphis or to other, larger facilities nearby.
That had also been the process at Crittenden County Regional, Wheeless said.
“We’re not trying to be in competition with them,” he said of the larger facilities in the area. “We’re trying to actually offer what our residents in this county actually need.”
Baptist Memorial Hospital will also have a radiology lab, CAT scan and MRI labs.
“We’re offering a lot of different services to make sure the patients use the hospital here locally without going across the river,” Wheeless said.
While a local hospital provides employment opportunities, it is also a vital component of a community that wants to draw business and residents, Wheeless said. He noted that police and fire departments, school systems and hospitals are high on the list for most prospective industries.
“If you sit here and say, ‘We’ve got part of that but we don’t have all of that,’ chances are they’re going to go somewhere else,” Wheeless said.
Public tours were available following Monday’s ribbon cutting.
(Editor’s Note: This story was originally published Oct. 10 and has been updated to include details from a Nov. 5 ribbon-cutting.)