New hospital in West Memphis could see its first patients this year

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 272 views 

Construction on the new Baptist Memorial Hospital-Crittenden County is finishing ahead of schedule and BMHCC President and CEO Brian Welton told Talk Business & Politics the doors could open by December.

Construction will be completed on or about Oct. 2, and then Baptist will begin moving in equipment, furniture, and other items. Some larger pieces of equipment such as the hospital’s MRI machine will have to be placed before construction ends. Welton said it’s tentatively scheduled to open Dec. 3. The project has remained within the projected $43 million range.

“We are a month ahead of schedule. We are close to being operational,” he said.

The hospital will employ up to 115 workers, and that doesn’t include vendors that will be contracted, he said. The area has been without a hospital since bankruptcy forced Crittenden Regional Hospital to close in 2014.

The 65,000-square-foot facility will have at least 10 patient rooms, two emergency operating rooms, endoscopy room, a cancer infusion room, and other services. While the hospital will offer a wide range of services, it won’t offer obstetrics, Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless previously told Talk Business & Politics. It’s located at the convergence of Interstate 555 and Seventh Street in West Memphis.

County voters approved a 1-cent sales tax hike in 2016 to pay for the hospital. The tax will be collected for five years, and it was projected to raise about $30 million. Collections have been slightly higher than anticipated, and it will likely be closer to $32 million. The rest of the project cost will be covered by Baptist Memorial Health Care, a company that operates 17 healthcare facilities in the Mid-South, including BEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro.

Baptist has a 10-year lease on the new hospital and a 10-year renewal option. It can also buy the hospital after so many years, Wheeless said, but it has to keep the hospital open for a set number of years, or ownership reverts back to the county. Economic developers in West Memphis and nearby Marion have lamented about how hard it is to lure job creators to the area without a viable hospital.

When the county had a hospital, the average ambulance run was about 30 minutes. Ambulances now have to take patients to Memphis-area hospitals and the run time has ballooned to up to four hours per trip. Congested highways, distance, busy emergency rooms, and other factors have led to the expanded run times, Wheeless said. It leaves swaths of the county without service at times, he said.

It’s estimated the hospital will see about 25,000 patients each year. Crittenden Regional had 150 patient beds, but there were only 16 patients in the hospital when it closed, Wheeless said. Baptist is taking a slow and cautious approach, and it’s the right way to handle the situation, he said.

The hospital has been designed so it can be expanded. Two major U.S. interstates – 40, and 55 – meet in West Memphis meaning millions of people travel through the region each month. The high traffic could mean more people seeking healthcare, he said. Talks about an industrial “super site” in Marion have begun again, and if jobs are created the healthcare needs within in the county will grow. The hospital will be the latest, state of the art model in the Baptist system, Welton said.

“This is a new model,” he said.

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