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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Eastern Ozarks hospital closes

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Staff Writer

Dr. George Jackson was on Emergency Room duty at Eastern Ozarks Regional Health System Nov. 29, as he has been night after night since October, attempting to keep the hospital open.

Unfortunately, it may have been the last time Jackson will man the Eastern Ozarks ER.

"I was hoping we could at least keep it open until Christmas," a somber Jackson said after it was announced the hospital would close its doors at midnight.

Speculation the hospital was on the verge of closing had run rampant since it closed its ER over Thanksgiving weekend.

"I hoped we would never see this happen to our community," said Eastern Ozarks Chief of Staff Dr. Surinder Sra.

Eastern Ozarks Director of Nursing Val West said the hospital was forced to close because of problems with the hospital's lab.

West said the lab closing set off a chain of events that led to the closing of the hospital.

"Without a lab, we can't have an ER. Without an ER we don't have a hospital," West said.

She said all out-patient services including physical therapy and X-ray would still be available.

West said the hospital may re-open later in the week if the problems with the lab are fixed. She said the hospital had approximately 142 employees.

She said no employees have been laid off, but employees are given updated information about their status every 12 hours.

Jackson said the lab was closed because of a "chronic lack of reagents." He said reagents are used to perform blood tests on patients.

"Over the last several weeks, we have been unable to perform several basic blood tests because of the lack of reagents," said Jackson.

Dr. Francis Duke, who has been splitting ER shifts on nights and weekends with Jackson, said the reagents are expensive and the hospital wasn't ordering enough.

Jackson said reagents were outdated and stored improperly.

During the day before the hospital closed, inspectors from the Arkansas Department of Health were present at the hospital.

Health Department Public Information Officer Ed Barham said the department is not permitted by law to divulge information about ongoing inspections.

Barham said any information gleaned from the inspection will be made available to the public 90 days after the investigation is complete.

The three patients at the hospital Monday were transferred to other hospitals before the midnight closing of the lab.

West said while the ER was closed over the weekend at least 59 potential patients were denied service.

Several hours before the hospital closed, Scott Becht, son of Eastern Ozarks owner Bob Becht, said they were working to keep the hospital open.

Bob Becht bought the hospital in 1995.

Becht said the financial pressures of keeping a small rural hospital open are enormous.

Jackson said state law requires that an ER must have a physician on-call 24 hours a day to remain open.

Eastern Ozarks had lost its physician referral contract with Louisiana-based Correct Care.

Correct Care provides ER physicians for rural hospitals in Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama on nights, weekends and holidays.

Correct Care owner Eddie Dease said Eastern Ozarks was significantly behind on its payments and his company terminated service to Eastern Ozarks at the end of October.

"Eastern Ozarks Regional Health owes us a tremendous amount of money," Dease said. If you combined what I make, you make and half the people in your office make in a year, it still wouldn't touch what they owe my company."

After Correct Care terminated its service, staff physicians were on call for the ER during the day, with Jackson and Duke working the ER at night.

Dease said he was asked by a representative from Eastern Ozarks two weeks ago how much the hospital would have to pay to get his company to re-start service.

Dease said he offered to re-start service if Eastern Ozarks would pay 1/4 of what it owed and would agree to pay the rest in increments. After making the offer, Dease said he has not been contacted by Eastern Ozarks.

Duke, who is employed by Correct Care, broke her contract with the company to help Dr. Jackson maintain the ER, she said.

Defending her decision, she said "Practicing medicine isn't just a science, it's an art. The art of taking care of human beings. Sometimes it's got to be about the patients and not the money."

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