Sharp County Residents Learn Closed Hospital's Possible Future

DECEMBER 8, 2004 -- Posted at: 11:00pm CST

ASH FLAT, AR - Sharp County Judge Harrold Crawford organized a meeting Wednesday night, in hopes of better informing residents about updates regarding the Eastern Ozarks Regional Health System. More than 100 people showed up. Some of them had to stand outside of the room. All of them are concerned about the hospital they so desperately want to keep.

"The Health Department is working with us, and they've giving us a lead way at least until the middle of January now to try to find a provider for this hospital," the judge told the audience.

Judge Crawford explained, "Hey I'm a living example. I was rolled into that emergency one night in 1998, and if it hadn't been for the help I got over there, I probably wouldn't have been able to get that new heart a year ago."

So far four companies have expressed interest in purchasing the hospital, including Ameris Health Systems out of Nashville, Tennessee. On Monday, the company took over ownership of the hospitals in Osceola and Blytheville.

Frank Schupp, a representative of Ameris Health Systems, said, "Our goal's to where now we go in and either purchase rural hospitals, or we go in and build hospitals in areas that are medically under served. Just to make it real clear, yes we are a for-profit corporation."

Schupp added that Ameris pays taxes and provides the same amount of charity patient care as non-profit organizations. No one is turned away. Doctors are required to live in the communities in which they serve, and must become involved in local groups and activities.

"Eight years ago we bought an old 70 bed hospital outside of Valdosta, Georgia, and got a license from the state to build a new hospital two years ago," added Schupp. "The day we closed the old hospital, we had 12 doctors on staff. Today we've got 123 doctors on staff."

Until a new buyer takes over, the residents know their health and possibly their lives are in danger. Judge Kevin King's mother died the day after Thanksgiving. She had to be taken to a Fulton County hospital in order to be treated.

"Yes we could've said, look if that had been open, my momma might have been alive, and she might be, but that's not for me to say," King commented. "There's someone higher up that has that call, not the local hospital."

The many hospital staff that are here are ready to get back to work, and back to providing care for the residents of Sharp County.

Doctor Fran Duke said, "I have no doubt in my mind that it's a challenge, and I think we're up for it."

Frank Schupp is scheduled to meet with members of the Arkansas Hospital Association and the Department of Health on Thursday. Meanwhile, Judge Harrold Crawford is in the process of organizing a task force to help secure a buyer for the hospital.