Other hospital options need consideration

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Allegiance Health Management wants to renew its lease for Eureka Springs Hospital and is asking for the ESH Board to invest in renovations to the interior of the hospital. At a recent hospital board meeting, Eureka Springs Hospital CEO Peter Savoy said Allegiance wants to be here long-term, and that Allegiance would be willing to lock into a “far longer” lease if it knew some portion of the lease payments would be dedicated to renovating the hospital.

Hospital board member and Chief of Staff at ESH, John House, MD, said he continues to hear that local residents are upset Allegiance is not going to build a new hospital.

Hospital commission chair Michael Merry seemed to give Allegiance a get-out-of-jail free card by saying the hospital commission realized a year ago that a new hospital wasn’t in the works, and that there were practical economic and political reasons now why it would be “foolish” to invest $20 million in building a new hospital in a rural area.

Since Allegiance has refused to provide information on how much money the hospital is making, it is hard to determine if building a new hospital might be financially feasible. But clearly the company is making money or it wouldn’t be eager to begin negotiations for a new lease.

Allegiance strung the community along for years on the new hospital issue. “We have been waiting eight years for Allegiance to do something, and there is nothing that the public can see,” hospital board member Anna Ahlman was quoted as saying in 2015. “The public needs to see that something is happening. Nothing ever happens. It is frustrating for the public and frustrating for us.”

If Allegiance gets away with breaking its promise, and then is the only management company considered to run the Eureka Springs Hospital, just what kind of deal do you think the city will get? At the very least, the hospital board needs to solicit proposals from other hospital management companies. Some other hospital management companies that could be contacted include American Hospital Management Company, Community Hospital Corporation, Preferred Management Corp., FoundationHealth and SSM Health.

Or how about thinking out of the box? The best thing for local residents might be if the hospital was put up for sale to a non-profit hospital system in the state. The idea of having a publicly owned hospital is to provide the most affordable care possible to local residents. So why not offer ownership of the hospital to one of the larger non-profit hospital systems in the state like Mercy, which operates a hospital in Berryville? Another good non-profit fit might Washington Regional Hospital, which already has a clinic here in Eureka.

In addition to taking the profit motive out of hospital healthcare, being linked to a large hospital system could reduce costs through economies of scale.

Selling the hospital would also remove a potential future liability for the city. And perhaps funds from the hospital sale could help with badly needed water, sewer and street improvements.

Then there is the $2.4 million the Hospital Commission currently has in the bank from lease revenues. Those funds must be dedicated to healthcare. And what better way to improve healthcare in the community than building a wellness center that includes an indoor swimming pool and other exercise facilities at the new community center at the site of the old high school? There is a precedent for this as other hospital systems in the country are investing in wellness facilities designed to prevent illnesses rather than wait until someone gets sick and needs extensive and expensive healthcare.

Let’s invest in healthy Eurkeans instead of just making more profits for a company that broke its promise to Eureka Springs.

Becky Gillette