Unity Health of Searcy said Monday that it had acquired the hospital buildings and multiple adjacent properties in Jacksonville.
The not-for-profit health care provider plans to invest at least $30 million in the project and spend about $8.3 million on improvements in the first year, Mayor Bob Johnson told Arkansas Business on Tuesday. He didn’t know whether either of those figures include the purchase price.
Unity Health said the deal, first announced in November, was completed through cooperation between Unity Health, city officials and Allegiance Health Management Inc. of Shreveport, the hospital’s previous owner.
Financial terms of Unity Health’s asset purchase agreement with Allegiance were not disclosed.
“Unity Health will work with the state to re-license the facility and begin extensive remodeling this spring with the intent to see our first patient by early summer of 2022,” Unity Health President and CEO Steven Webb said. “The initial plan is for the Unity Health-Jacksonville location to provide an emergency department, radiology and imaging services, behavioral health services, and observation and acute inpatient rooms, with the intent to add more services throughout the first three years.”
The mayor said Unity Health also bought the Jacksonville Medical Care clinic, a physical therapy clinic, a day care, outbuildings and two parking lots.
Unity Health has two hospitals, one in Searcy and one in Newport, as well as more than 20 physician clinics and specialty centers across eight Arkansas counties.
Allegiance, which struggled to operate hospitals in Eureka Springs and Dardanelle, closed North Metro Medical Center in 2019, leaving Jacksonville without a hospital. Allegiance converted the building to a psychiatric facility called Freedom Behavioral Hospital of Central Arkansas.
North Metro had endured financial troubles for years. It reported net patient revenue of $18.25 million and a net loss of $9.24 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018. For the fiscal year that ended in 2017, North Metro had a net loss of $5.3 million.
Johnson said the Unity Health deal took a little longer than was originally anticipated because there were title issues to work out, as several liens had been placed on the property.
Johnson had been working to remedy the city’s hospital woes since becoming mayor.
“When I took office in ’19, I talked with the hospital,” he said. “I knew they were struggling. So I started working with other health care facilities at that time — you know, all your big boys around.”
He said Allegiance closed the hospital — without warning — that same year.
Johnson said a deal was close for Baptist Health to buy the property, but it didn’t work out. Talks with Unity Health began in March 2019 and got serious in February 2020, he said.
“They really stepped up big, and they have big plans for the hospital,” Johnson said. He said the project would “give Jacksonville the health care they really deserve” and serve surrounding areas too, including Gravel Ridge, Cabot, Ward, Austin, Lonoke and Furlow.
“We expect them to do well. They expect to do well,” the mayor continued. “They’re a quality health care place, and what they do they do right. They’re going to make [the hospital] more user-friendly.”
Johnson said Unity plans to nearly double the size of the emergency room and have “in-and-out” rooms so patients who need a simple fix can be seen and released quickly.
He said the new owners will figure out the community’s needs and respond with expansions that could include reopening the day care and surgery center.
“They took over that hospital in Newport, and they turned it around and made it a profitable hospital, and people move for good health care,” Johnson said. “They’re going to bring residency programs out here. They’re going to bring clinics. They’re going to do what it takes to serve the needs of the people. And so I’m really thrilled they’re here. I think the citizens are glad they’re here.”
Johnson said a medical group in Little Rock is already considering leasing a building that shares a driveway with the ER.
“What I’m hoping is, we’re going to attract new doctors, new medical specialists. … They’re going to be the full gamut of health care that we’re looking for,” Johnson said.
Johnson said having a hospital in Jacksonville will reduce the miles the city-run ambulance service puts on its vehicles and decrease response times. Its ambulances had been taking patients to Sherwood and North Little Rock.