Joint workshop focuses on hospital transition

Thursday, March 12, 2020

By Samantha Jones

Eureka Springs Hospital has been under the city's ownership for more than a month now and there have been many developments in that time.

The Eureka Springs City Council heard from the hospital commission at a joint workshop on Thursday, March 5, about everything that has happened since ownership transitioned from Allegiance Health Management to the city on Feb. 1. Mayor Butch Berry kicked things off by saying he's excited about the hospital's trajectory.

"It's now part of Eureka Springs for real," Berry said.

Council member Terry McClung asked if it's a done deal and Berry said it is. Darrell Parke, who works with Alliance Management Group, said he and his associates have been helping the commission with the transition of ownership. There are a number of issues that come with taking over the hospital, Parke said, starting with the official transition of ownership.

"That's an application process that takes time to get done. It's called the exchange of ownership," Parke said, "which is an 855A form which goes through Medicare and the federal government, and Arkansas has its own process as well. It's underway. It's a priority for us to do that."

The commission controls the bank accounts including accounts receivable and accounts payable, Parke said.

"We set those up at Cornerstone Bank and changed the lock boxes," Parke said. "Now the money that's in those lock boxes belongs to the commission, which belongs to the hospital. We've got all that done."

Parke said the commission has a new process for accounts payable and accounts receivable. There are certain accounts payable items that Allegiance took, Parke said, and there are accounts payable items the commission absorbed as part of the settlement with the company.

"We still communicate with [Allegiance] which is a very cordial relationship," Parke said. "They haven't pushed back on things that have been done, because it's all been done legally."

Allegiance did take some equipment with them, Parke said, including larger items like the CT and radiology equipment. Parke said the commission looked at that as an opportunity to improve, agreeing to replace it with better equipment to make the hospital competitive with other facilities in the area. One of the major changes, Parke said, is that the hospital now has an 80-slice CT instead of a 32-slice CT.

"We have now increased our services and we will increase our ability to provide services at the hospital tenfold," Parke said, "with about a $2,000 a month increase in cost."

The new equipment means people will stay in Eureka Springs when they need help, Parke said.

"We will be able to do scoring and testing that we could not do. We had to transport patients to other facilities," Parke said, "because we didn't have the capability to do that. We will have that capability. We will have the best radiology room in this part of the state."

Fellow Alliance representative Ryan Capshew said Eureka Springs Hospital will be one of the few rural health hospitals with that capability.

"It will be one of two critical-access hospitals in the state of Arkansas that has the capabilities we're going to have in the CT room," Capshew said.

McClung asked if the transition of equipment would be completed without interruption and Parke said there will be a mobile CT available while the new CT is put in place. That process should start on March 17, Parke said, and will take around 10 days to complete.

The new equipment means the hospital can expand its services. Parke said the hospital will soon begin offering ultrasound services and impressive radiology services. Before the transition of ownership, Parke said, Eureka Springs Hospital was capturing only 30 percent of the radiology services in Carroll County.

"That means somebody else is capturing the other 70 percent," Parke said. "Why? Because we were woefully inadequate in what we were doing and our technology wasn't great."

"The goal is to increase the level of care that we can provide here at Eureka Springs Hospital with these tools [Parke] is talking about," Capshew said.

Parke said he expects the hospital to begin conducting blood work more often since the new equipment allows results to come through in seconds, not minutes. Berry said that's important because EMS and transit employees frequently get blood tests and have to drive to Berryville to do so.

"That's taking out of their time and everything else," Berry said.

Parke said the hospital has created an occupational medicine program as well.

"We won't know how to exactly execute that until we get the equipment and staff on the ground," Parke said.

One of the most exciting recent developments, Parke said, is that the emergency room doctors are now under the commission's leadership. In fact, Parke said, all hospital employees have transitioned to city employees and receive the benefits that come with that.

"They are no longer the product of another company," Parke said. "They are ours."

The hospital employees have really come around to the new management, Parke said, because the commission believes in full transparency.

"What we have found over the years is such lacking transparency in what happens in the hospital," Parke said, "that the physicians had no clue what was happening. They had no idea about the financial situation. We don't work that way."

Parke continued, "We believe in total and complete transparency. We're creating a contract with physicians where they'll help us manage that ER and not just be providers. That means we'll get more out of them. We get their assistance in management."

Council member Susan Harman asked how much money the commission has in reserves and commissioner Barbara Dicks said it's around $2 million.

"Do you have any expenses coming out that will bring that down any time soon?" Harman asked.

Dicks said the commission has invested $400,000 for payroll and other items, saying the hospital hasn't spent all that yet.

"Right now, money is coming in and we haven't had to put more in," Dicks said. "If we need to keep this hospital afloat, we will put everything in. The commission is prepared to help the hospital."

Berry said the workshop made him even more excited about what's going on at the hospital.

"Your enthusiasm is contagious. The commission has done a great job," Berry said. "I think everybody's working well together."

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