Hope's hospital facing closure threat; Hempstead County Quorum Court appoints committee to respond
The fate of Wadley Regional Hospital in Hope could be in the balance now because of the financial troubles faced by its parent company Steward Medical Group. This was stated by one Justice of the Peace who spoke at the Thursday April 18th Hempstead County Quorum Court meeting. 

Justice of the Peace Steve Atchley spoke about what he knew and made a suggestion to County Judge Jerry Crane as to a course of action: 

“I know you all have heard rumors about the hospital closing or potentially closing, the parent company filing bankruptcy and all kinds of other such going on. The truth is we don’t know a whole lot about it, but a group has come together, and we are going to ask Jerry to appoint an ad hoc committee of three individuals to serve with three individuals appointed by the city of Hope to get ready to move on this,” Darling said. 

“If you read the news, the national news, Steward Health Care 30 days ago filed notice with their folks that hold all their liens they needed 30 days to put together a reorganization plan and obtain some additional financing, and that runs out in two weeks, so we’ll probably be under a short leash to get something done. 

“I’ll tell you up front,” Darling continued. “This is not confidential. If this hospital ever closes , it won’t reopen, because of deficiencies in life safety codes as are required by any new construction. Once you close it, you can’t reopen it. 

“There needs to be a plan in place that if they declare bankruptcy, we can keep it going from that day forward,” Darling said. “All this group has had to file nondisclosure agreements with the parties we are dealing with. We’ll know where we are day-to-day, but we’re trying to come up with a plan to keep health care in this community.” 

Turning to the impact a hospital closing could have on the local economy, Darling said, “As most of you know, most industries that locate here require some kind of acute healthcare facility whether emergency facilities or a full-service hospital. Our intention is to work with this group and keep a viable hospital in this community.” 

What it looks like going forward, it may be the county holding a building out there as a nonprofit corporation. It may be no telling what, but this group that is being put together will hopefully come up with a plan to keep healthcare in our community.” 

At this Judge Crane named the county’s members of the ad hoc committee. They are District Prosecutor Ben Hale, Pafford Chief Operating Officer Clay Hobbs and Justice of the Peace and head of the Quorum Court’s Budget Committee Ed Darling. 

Executive Director of the Hope-Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation Anna Powell said she wanted everyone to have faith in the committee being appointed and wanted to make clear the current efforts have one motive only, to keep the hospital going. “We’re not trying to put anybody in the hospital business. What we’re doing is just to sustain ourselves and our growth.” She also said that going forward “we don’t want to put this in anybody’s hands who will pull the rug out from under us whenever they want to.” 

Powell said Hope is not the only community in Arkansas facing the problem of a potential hospital closing.. “Those employees out there are dedicated, and they care and love their patients,” she said. “I just want you to have confidence, because I really believe this is going to work in our favor.” 

Judge Crane asked if Steward’s difficulties could cause its hospital in Texarkana to close. Darling said, “Yes. There’ll probably be another one there with a different name. Steward is not running companies. Ninety percent chance it’s going to disappear.” 

Powell spoke again to express faith in a good outcome. “This is a federally recognized problem and there are some solutions.” She also emphasized that the current troubles cannot be blamed on the county or on the hospital’s employees. “We just have to be alert about [corporate] operations because healthcare changes everything.” 

Thirty-three other Steward-run facilities in seven states are likely to be affected by what occurs with the company. The company’s problems have been attributed to a decision to sell its buildings and then rent them from their new owners. As rents increased, Steward has had trouble covering their costs. 

In other business, the court voted unanimously in favor of the following ordinances. 

·       Regular meetings of the Hempstead Quorum Court will occur on the fourth Thursday of the month from now on at 4:30 p.m. in the Hempstead County Courthouse’s large courtroom. 

·       A transferal of $4,142.60 from American Rescue Plan Act funds was made to pay for the county’s sending of postcards to residents alerting them of the need to check their internet service speeds and notify county officials of any discrepancy between advertised rates and real rates. 

·       A payment of $5,561 from ARPA funds to defray the cost of jail flooring. 

·       An appropriation of $18,292.84 was made to the Emergency Vehicle fund to help replaced a wrecked vehicle. The fund is projected to collect $20,326 in anticipated revenue. 

Sheriff James I. Singleton reported that the case of an officer-involved shooting in which a suspect being served a warrant related to the vandalism of Hope cemeteries was killed is in the hands of a prosecutor’s office in Nashville. The suspect charged at the deputy with a machete before being shot. Singleton also asked for prayers for the deputy who was not hurt but is living with the trauma of the incident.