Construction on the new Baptist Memorial Hospital-Crittenden County is virtually complete, employees have been hired, and the hospital is slated to open Dec. 3, BMHCC President and CEO Brian Welton said during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday (Nov. 5) in West Memphis. The hospital will cost about $43 million to complete, and will employ about 115 workers, according to the company. West Memphis has been without a hospital since Crittenden Regional closed more than four years ago.
“It’s been 1,520 days since this community has had a hospital to call its own. That’s 1,520 days without an in-patient bed, without emergency services, without a CT scanner. And that is changing very soon,” Welton told the crowd.
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 one-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 NEA 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.
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 in the county will grow. The hospital will be the latest, state of the art model in the Baptist system, Welton said.
Soil stability was a problem when construction began.
“We have 3,200 earthquake drainage systems that are below us that had to be driven 50 feet down into the ground in order to stabilize this site in order to be able to build on. We have over 160 million pounds of dirt that had to be hauled here to be able to support this structure,” Welton said.
A majority of those hired employees are Crittenden County residents that reside in communities throughout the area, Welton said. Several are former Crittenden Regional employees who had to seek jobs at Methodist, and St. Francis and Jonesboro.
Jason Little, Baptist Memorial Healthcare CEO, attended the ribbon cutting and is pleased with his company’s move into this part of Arkansas.
“When we began working to make this extreme a reality, one of the things we knew at Baptist was we needed to place our best leadership here in Crittenden County and this community. I’m proud do say we’ve done that with Brian Welton and the team he has assembled. You’re going to be in terrific hands.”