Leader Blues

Monday, October 06, 2008

TOP STORY >>City seeks to unload its hospital

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

“It’s very difficult to maintain a hospital these days,” Mayor Tommy Swaim told the city council Thursday night as he asked permission to make a change in the lease, making it easier for Jacksonville to unload its city-owned hospital, North Metro Medical Center.
The mayor said cities across the state are having difficulties. Two cities — Dardanelle and Stuttgart — recently worked agreements with other entities to take over their hospitals, while Lake Village and Malvern residents approved tax increases to keep their hospitals.
The mayor said a tax increase was out of the question. “It’s just not a viable solution,” Swaim said, “because of the closeness of other facilities.” So, instead, the city has been shopping the hospital to a variety of companies and entities.
“We have two entities that are interested. One is a for-profit group and the other is a nonprofit group,” the mayor said.
The current lease agreement with the city only allows a nonprofit group to take over the hospital.
The council voted to change the lease to allow a for-profit group to operate the hospital, which is now run by a management firm from Brentwood, Tenn.
The mayor said the city didn’t know which of the two prospects would take over the hospital, or if another group might come forward, but the change in the lease gives the city maximum opportunity to work out something positive for everyone, according to the mayor.
Before voting for the lease agreement change, Alderman Gary Fletcher expressed concerns about changes in the quality and services of the hospital. Fletcher, who spent time in the hospital recently with his ailing father, said the quality of care was excellent. “The word just hasn’t gotten out how good the hospital is,” he said. “I’m worried about any disruption of services,” Fletcher said.
The mayor said the purpose of North Metro was to provide medical care for the community. He said in the negotiations with the two entities it will be clear that the facility will be, as a minimum, an acute care hospital with an emergency room. “Whichever entity takes over the hospital may bring in other specialties to the hospital,” the mayor said.
The resolution, which the council unanimously approved, authorizes the mayor to negotiate and execute all the necessary paperwork in effort to secure a long term lease for the operation of the hospital “to continue meeting the medical needs and requirements of local residents and citizens.”
No timetable for signing over the hospital to another entity was announced.
In other council business:
*Aldermen approved spending$19,500 to replace about 2,000 square feet of roofing on the police department building.
*The council approved a resolution saying it would be happy to receive and use and federal money from the Safe Routes to School Program. The city has received these funds in the past and used the money to build sidewalks leading to and from schools within the city limits.
*Alderman approved an ordinance allowing the city clerk to destroy duplicate and old, unneeded records.
“By law,” the mayor explained, “we need to keep some records permanently, and others for three to seven years.” The city currently has some records dating back 35 years.