SHARP COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – Two competing plans could changethe level of medical care available to residents in Sharp County.
At its meeting this week, the Sharp County Quorum Court heardabout two proposals that would take the number of emergency rooms in the countyfrom zero to two.
The justices of the peace agreed to hold a special electionnext spring so that voters can decide if they will support a sales tax to funda new hospital and emergency room.
A separate plan faces fewer obstacles and does not requirevoter approval. This one would allow another emergency room to open in SharpCounty at no cost to taxpayers.
The White River Medical Complex in Cherokee Village openedin 2007, but announced Monday that it's now ready to turn its urgent careclinic into an emergency room open around the clock.
"The facility is ready to go for an emergency room," JamesStreet, the facility administrator, said. "We've been waiting until the volumeswere sufficient to justify the conversion to a full-blown emergency room thatwill be serviced by emergency-trained physicians 24/7."
Street said the clinic could become an ER within a week'stime, but it still needs regulatory approval and a few cosmetic changes insideto make everything fully functional.
"This satellite emergency room will be totally financed bythe White River Medical Center," Street explained. "We did not ask nor did weseek any tax support for it, so we're putting the financial resources of WhiteRiver Medical Center behind this project."
He expects the ER to open sometime next spring. That'slikely around the same time that voters will go to the polls in Sharp County todecide the fate of a 1.5-cent sales tax, which if approved would pay to buildand run a new hospital in the county.
"The strength and the success of the community are based onfour basic building blocks," Bob Evins said. "You've got to have good schools.You've got to have good churches, good banks; and you've got to have goodhealth care. Without one of those four building blocks, it's very difficult fora community to grow and thrive like it needs to."
Evins claims Sharp County has suffered the most without alocal hospital. That's why he joined other community leaders to form the Sharp CountyHospital Foundation. The foundation's goal, he says, was to bring a medicalfacility back to the area after the previous one closed almost a decade ago.
On Monday the foundation members presented their final proposalto the quorum court. They would like to build a 40,000 square foot facility somewherein the county that houses a hospital and emergency room. The price tag to buildsuch a facility would cost around $12 million, according to Evins.
The foundation suggested that revenue from the 1.5-centsales tax could fully fund construction as well as maintenance and upkeep ofthe facility. The justices agreed to hold a special election on March 11, 2014,where voters will decide whether they'll support the sales tax to pay for ahospital.
"In the foundation's opinion," Evins said, "[the hospital]is a very integral part of the success of the community. It's something that weneed to get behind and get the community support."
The foundation, Evins said, conducted its own polling beforemaking the proposal. He claims the results showed overwhelming support for notonly bringing back a hospital to the area but also paying for it through asales tax.
"The only way that we can move forward not just now but intothe future with good health care," Evins said, "is for the people in thecommunity to take the responsibility for it and control it themselves."
He said the foundation members are confident that the salestax will pass based on their own analysis despite the White River MedicalComplex announcing its intent to add an emergency room in Cherokee Village.
"I think that [an emergency room] is just one part of what'sneeded to give us good quality health care to the area," Evins said, "but inthe final analysis, an emergency room is not a hospital."
After Region 8 News spoke to a few voters Tuesday in SharpCounty, it seemed like many do not mind paying higher taxes if it means havinga hospital in the area again.
"I take care of my elderly mom," Terrill Martin of CherokeeVillage said, "and if there was an emergency, it'd be nice if I didn't have todrive to Jonesboro or Batesville."
"A lot of people have to go to Mountain Home or Batesville,and that's just a little far to go or Fulton County," Patti Dunlap said. "Wereally need something here for the people that's close."
"I think all you can really do to be fair to everybody,"Beverly Rackley of Mammoth Spring said, "is to do a vote and let the votersdecide."