Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

TOP STORY >> Base says it depends on doctors in the area

Leader staff writer

If Jacksonville Medical Clinic closes, it will significantly affect airmen and their families who depend on its services, say base leaders.

Relocation of the clinic to Sherwood is a possibility if a second appraisal of the building does not bring down rents to an affordable level.

Closure of the clinic “would have an adverse impact on our clinic, our patients and the mission of Little Rock Air Force Base,” says Col. David Stanczyk, commander of the 19th Medical Group at Little Rock Air Force Base.

According to Stanczyk, airmen rely heavily on the clinic, which is located two miles from the base. The proximity to the base has been convenient for base personnel and families and has facilitated a close working relationship over the years between the clinic physicians and those on base. During times of physician shortages on base, the clinic has supported the 19th Medical Group.

“The outstanding medical care rendered by our civilian medical partners is essential to maintaining the health of our patients,” Stanczyk said. “They routinely see our overflow patients and prevent unnecessary drives to Little Rock for care.”  

The clinic is one of several located in Cabot, Jacksonville and Sherwood that the base relies on for medical services, Stanczyk noted, that provide “outstanding support in meeting the overflow acute care needs of patients enrolled to the 19th Medical Group. We sincerely hope this relationship continues for many years to come.”

The possible relocation of the 11-doctor medical group to Sherwood is on hold until a second appraisal can be completed on the clinic building, which is located next to North Metro Medical Center on Braden Street.

The doctors sought the first appraisal last fall after being informed by hospital management a year ago that the rent on the building was going up. By law, the hospital must rent clinic space in accord with a property’s market value.

The findings of the first appraisal, which doctors contest is more in line with west Little Rock real estate values those of than north Pulaski County, forced their rent up from $5 per square foot to $17 per square foot, or $459,000 a year. But the higher rent includes maintenance and other services provided by the hospital, which the doctors used to pay for until this year because of the lower rent.

St. Vincent Medical Center/North in Sherwood has offered the Jacksonville doctors $14 a square foot, which would save them about $100,000 a year. When the second appraisal will be finish is not yet certain. Clinic management said that a timeline has not yet been established.

Sharron Stephens, administrator of the Jacksonville Medical Clinic, said she hopes that the medical group can remain in Jacksonville.

“We are concerned for a lot of our senior patients who can’t find doctors,” if the clinic closes, she said. Finding a physician willing to take Medicare patients is difficult, because the Medicare reimbursement rate only meets overhead expenses.

At the first of the year, the doctors at the clinic severed their employee relationship with North Metro Medical Clinic. With that came another change that has troubled a special group of Jacksonville seniors – hospital auxiliary volunteers.

The non-paid auxiliary workers who served at the clinic were let go; only the two who are paid stayed on. There was no choice, said Stephens.

Some of the volunteers who were dismissed had served at the clinic for many decades and are saddened by the change, they told The Leader.

“We can’t have the auxiliary here because the clinic is now for-profit, Stephens said. “It is just a labor board rule. It is not that we did not want them.”