Old hospital given one month to ‘live’

Old hospital given one month to ‘live’

Quorum Court ready to pull the plug on empty Crittenden Regional building

news@theeveningtimes.com

The former Crittenden Regional Hospital building has one more month to live before the county pulls the plug for good.

Faced with having to continue to spend nearly $100,000 a month to keep the lights on, insurance, and security, the Quorum Court decided to give County Judge Woody Wheeless until March to find another entity willing to lease the building or else put it in mothballs.

'I hate to see it go as much as anybody,' said Justice Ronnie Sturch. 'It has a lot of memories for me. But I can't continue to vote to spend $100,000 on memories.'

Crittenden Regional Hospital opened in Oct. 1954.

The hospital closed in August 2014 and declared bankruptcy.

The county has been actively looking for another health care provider to reopen the emergency room in the building but hasn't found much interest due to the age of the building.

A $15 million deal with Ameris Health System to reopen the ER and add services as needed fell apart because of confusion over how money from a one cent sales tax could be spent.

County voters passed a measure that would generate $30 million over five years to help support a hospital.

Wheeless told the justices that he had shown the property several times but no one is interested.

'(County Attorney) Joe (Rogers) and I have shown that to everyone and their brother,' Wheeless said.

'Nobody is interested in opening up that facility not even on a temporary basis.'

The county has already spent over $800,000 last year to keep the utilities on and the building secured in the hopes that some one will want to lease it.

Even with scaled down security, it is costing the county about $60,000 a month to keep it open.

About $20,000 of that is covered by an existing hospital millage that is still being collected.

The county owns the hospital building, professional office building, and the Schoettle Center.

The problem with the hospital building is that the roof is leaking and the heating and air system is ancient.

Wheeless said it is not possible to shut down parts of the hospital building that are still possibly viable.

'The heating and air controls the whole structure,' Wheeless said. 'You can't cut off sections and maintain the integrity of the building.'

Wheeless has been talking to Arkansas Department of Veterans who recently toured the building about possibly leasing it for veteran's housing.

'It's just one idea,' Wheeless said. 'They said they would call me back. But I have nothing definite from them.'

The equipment which was leased by the former Hospital Association has already been removed. The rest of the contents inside the building belong to the hospital association.

Justice Ronnie Marconi said it may be time to stop throwing money away on the building.

'It's big. It's outdated. And nobody wants it,' Marconie said. 'I know this is terrible coming out of my mouth, but I think we need to put it in the ground and take our losses.'

Wheeless said even if the county does decide to shut the utilities off and close the building down, they will still have to pay insurance on the building and maintain the grounds.

'The insurance is low today because it is occupied,' Wheeless said. 'The day you shut it down, the insurance is going to go way up. And once you shut the lights off, that property is dead.'

Wheeless said the county will also have to deal with vandalism.

The building has been broken in to twice. The Schoettle Center has also been broken in to.

'Somebody broke out a window last week,' Wheeless said. 'Those are things we have to think about if we close those doors.'

Justice Lisa O'Neal asked whether the county could put the building up for auction.

'We're either going to have to sell it or demolish it,' O'Neal said. 'What would the steps be in order to do an auction? It would be several million to tear it down. Even if we made a small amount, it would be better than several million in the hole.'

County Attorney Joe Rogers said he would have to research the law about how to dispose of it.

Since the hospital was built with public money, it may take a vote of the people to be able to sell it.

Even if they are able to auction it, the law requires public property not to be sold for less than 75 percent of its assessed value.

'I need to get clarity on that,' Rogers said. 'That is up in the air. Those are three separate buildings on county property. And when you go back to the 1950s records it is difficult to understand what happened.'

The justices agreed to let Wheeless see whether the state VA is still interested, but beyond that expressed no desire to spend another $100,000 to keep it open.

'I can understand for a while,' Sturch said. 'We wanted to keep it operational in the hope that someone would take it over. But from what I'm hearing that's not going to happen. I don't see it happening and I'm not going to sit here and vote to continue to spend $100,000 a month to maintain that building, I can tell you that right now.

'I am okay with keeping it open another month. By that point we should have an agreement with Baptist and know where we stand, and give another month to work on the veterans affairs or whoever. But at some point if we don't have somebody who is interested, I don't want to continue on false hopes to keep this building open.'

By Mark Randall

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