Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Clinic gets a reprieve

A crisis has temporarily been averted. Doctors at Jacksonville Medical Clinic successfully negotiated a new rental agreement with the city and will stay here for at least the next three years.

For a while it looked as though Jacksonville’s long-time, well-respected and trusted physicians might pack up and move to Sherwood where St. Vincent’s North had offered them similar space for less than the rate Jacksonville was charging. Loss of the doctors could only be more bad news for the hospital, which has faced a loss of consumer confidence in addition to other serious problems.

But thanks to some negotiating by Jacksonville’s hospital commission and mayoral candidate Gary Fletcher, who stepped in at the last moment, the doctors will save about $100,000 a year and can afford to stay for now.

Patients served by North Metro Medical Center can breathe a collective sigh of relief that the doctors they know and trust have agreed to stay put, but the community, its residents and officials need to know there’s lots more to be done.

The doctors said they preferred to stay in Jacksonville but could not afford the increase in rent, which the commission had passed on to them in January based on current market rates. (We wonder if those rates have plummeted along with the rest of the real estate market.)

A strong medical group and the hospital it supports is important to the health of Jacksonville’s residents and those in the surrounding area, including Little Rock Air Force Base, whose airmen depend on the hospital for routine needs but also in the event of an emergency. Cabot and large areas of Lonoke County also depend on North Metro’s existence with Lonoke County being one of Arkansas’ 21 counties without a hospital.

In a true emergency — heart attack, stroke, or motorcycle accident, for example — time is of the essence, making the continued existence of North Metro and its physicians a necessity to the city and beyond.

Restoring public confidence in the hospital’s ability to deliver quality care will send local residents back to its doors. An accessible administration could go a long way toward restoring the public’s confidence in the hospital.

There’s lots of work to be done to repair the hospital’s image in Jacksonville and beyond. Perhaps a new mayor will focus on making North Metro one of the best in the state.

A recent agreement with a new contractor, Allegiance, will keep the hospital open as a long-term provider of critical care.

Other services, such as the emergency room, will continue to operate, but specific information is hard to come by. Area residents have a right to know what’s going at North Metro. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Residents need to feel that a well-staffed, well-equipped hospital is available for their families’ health care needs and well-being, as well as for emergencies. Having the familiar medical staff available will go a long way toward this goal. But Jacksonville and Lonoke County residents need to come back to Jacksonville Medical Clinic and North Metro in a show of support.

In turn, the hospital commission and administration need to adopt a policy of openness. Business conducted in secret can only foster suspicion among those who are sought after as customers. There’s got to be some give and take. The future of health care in this community depends on that.