Long-time NE Arkansas health care leader, Ben Owens retires

Jonesboro -- Today marked the last day for Ben Owens Sr. at the helm of St. Bernards Healthcare.  The President and CEO, and former administrator of St. Bernards hospital, leaves behind a legacy of leadership spanning more than three and a half decades.  Though you'd never hear him speak a word about what he's done, we found others who would.  They share insight into a man who's not only impacted healthcare in Jonesboro, but the economic development of region 8.

Ben Owens is credited with having vision for the future and drive to make it happen.

"I remember when we first started talking about seniors, the older people," said Sister Mary Anne Nuce, Mother Superior of the Holy Angels Convent.  "He has gotten every facet of their needs right here."

Expansion of services has grown exponentially under Owen's leadership.  From the Ben E. Owens Cancer Treatment Center, The HeartCare Center, Imaging Center, and more recently, the Flo & Phil Jones Hospice House and Wellness Center under construction, to a separate facility just for senior services, to most recently low-income housing availability, and before that--St. Bernards Village, a retirement community.

"It's just amazing! You can look all over Jonesboro and see the results of his forward-looking vision," said Charles Frierson, St. Bernard board member and Jonesboro attorney.  "St. Bernard's Village, the Benedictine 1 & 2 just being finished and they're already full."

"His compassion for his job, his love for the community and his love for the hospital and his love for medical care is unsurpassed," said Dr. William Young, President of HMG (Health Care Medical Group).

Dr. Young says Owens never turned down his requests for new equipment, technology or services.

"He let us change as science changed," said Dr. Young

Owens came to St. Bernards as hospital administrator in 1972.  A native of Alicia, he lost his father at an early age and was determined to go to college.  His drive and ambition are well documented through the scrapbooks compiling the hospital's history at the Holy Angels Convent.  The Olivetan Benedictine sisters started the hospital.

"He is able to spot a real leader," said Sister Mary Anne.  "That's one of his strong points. When he hires a manager, they have to be A+"

Owen's successor, Chris Barber is believed, by the sisters to be that kind of leader--having trained under Owen's himself.   Michael Givens will take Barber's spot now as hospital administrator.

"Not only has he been active and visionary in the field of health care, his involvement has benefitted this entire city as far as economic development," said Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin.

"With all the things that are happening with hospitals throughout the nation, hospitals are closing..have been in the last few years, or are merging because of the bottom line," said Frierson.  "But Ben has always insisted that we budget, and make the budget he has"

And that vision for the future doesn't stop with Owen's retirement.   Plans are in place for an entire medical community of physicians and specialists within walking distance of the hospital.  As Owens said to one of the sisters...

"This is my life.  It's not my work. It's my life."

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