City Votes "Yes" to Tax Increase to Save Hospital

POCAHONTAS, AR--The people have spoken. 34 Pocahontas residents voted against the issue to save the hospital in comparison more than 1000 voted to save it. For voters the issue was just as much about the future of Pocahontas as it was about their healthcare.

"I voted for the issue because it has everything to do with the community," said resident Bill Declerk.

Declerk was part of the 97% strong who voted to increase the sales tax in order to save the Randolph County Medical Center.

"They've shown they want it. They voted for it and I am really proud of that," said Randolph County Medical Center CEO Terry Whittington.

Whittington was surprised residents voted almost unanimously to take money out of their pockets to save the hospital.

"I think it shows that the voter, and the leaders of this community realize the importance of having a hospital in their community," said Whittington.

"Without one it is an automatic shutdown. Healthcare is right there on the top of the list as one of the most important things you can have along with jobs," said Declerk.

"We would not have any economic growth here. If we didn't have a hospital and that was the issue right there," said Randolph County Judge David Jansen.

With the tax soon to be in place, the city is in the early stages of negotiations to acquire the site from the current owners. Since the city is new to the healthcare business they would look to contract the administrative side of the hospital to someone more familiar. According to Jansen, they have already had preliminary discussions with Arkansas Methodist in Paragould.

"We have visited with Methodist and there may be one or two other companies interested," said Jansen.

One of the questions asked from this election is why voters in Pocahontas were only allowed to vote. According to Jansen, at first it was intended to be a county issue; however by the time the county was able to save up enough revenue from the tax to secure the necessary bonds would be at least three months.

"We did not feel the hospital doors would be open in September and October if we did not do something," said Jansen.

Because the city already had a three quarter cent sales tax in place, they possessed the financial flexibility to move forward with a deal involving the hospital. While the jobs the hospital brings and the opportunity for economic growth are important, ultimately having a hospital in the area for years to come is the biggest gain from this election.

"It saves lives, that's the impact to the citizens of Randolph County," said Jansen.

No medical services will be lost with the change of ownership. In fact hospital staff and Judge Jansen are optimistic additional services will come to hospital because of the money generated from the new tax.

Hospital officials believe it will take several months before the transfer of ownership is complete.