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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sharp Medical Foundation to buy hospital

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Staff Writer

Sharp County residents may have a hospital before the end of the summer.

The Sharp Medical Foundation reached a tentative agreement Feb. 11 with Robert Becht to purchase Eastern Ozarks Regional Health System.

Sharp Medical Chairman Jay Torbit said Becht agreed to sell the Cherokee Village hospital for $4 million.

Torbit said the hospital could be re-opened in the late summer or early fall.

"The foundation is very satisfied with this deal," Torbit said. "Over the next few months we will be working enthusiastically on all fronts to complete this deal."

The new hospital will be a not-for-profit community owned facility, Torbit said.

The purchase includes the hospital building, the adjacent five acres, easement along the highway for a hospital sign and other medical buildings.

Phone calls to Becht's office by the Villager Journal were not returned.

Besides the initial purchase price, Torbit said Sharp Medical Foundation will have to raise an additional $4 million to purchase medical equipment and bring the existing building up to state health codes.

The hospital building will be surveyed by an architectural firm based in Little Rock. Torbit said the firm will perform a structural and engineering survey.

The surveys are necessary to determine what changes need to be made so the hospital will conform to state codes, he said.

Torbit said Sharp Medical Foundation is exploring several funding options for the total $8 million cost of the project.

Those options include private financing from local businesses and individuals, acquiring federal or state grants, a countywide sales tax and private donations.

First National Banking Company Chairman Martin Carpenter, who along with Liberty Bank President Bob Evins negotiated with Becht on behalf of Sharp Medical, said FNBC and Liberty Bank would contribute to hospital financing.

Carpenter, who is vice-chairman of the foundation, would not comment about other financial contributors to the offer until the details of the financing are finalized.

"We hope to have a clearer picture by the end of the week," Carpenter said.

White River Medical Center in Batesville will be one of those contributors, said White River CEO Gary Bebow

Sharp Medical Foundation and White River signed a letter of intent Feb. 4 to jointly explore hospital options in the Quad Cities.

A proposed sales tax to fund the hospital is being studied by the foundation, Torbit said.

Private donations to Sharp Medical are already being accepted, Torbit said. The foundation has applied to the IRS for status as a 501(c)(3) organizations which would allow it to accept tax exempt donations.

The agreement with Becht will give the foundation a 90-day escrow period to explore financing options.

During the escrow period, Torbit said, Sharp Medical Foundation will "move forward on all fronts" to get the hospital opened as soon as possible. No money will be spent for physical improvements or other considerations until the sale is closed, he said.

Torbit said the new hospital will be governed by a board of directors whose membership will be determined by ownership in the hospital.

Explorations into the building of a new hospital have been suspended. The foundation estimated it would cost $14 million to build a new hospital, Torbit said.

Eastern Ozarks closed in December after being cited for multiple health code violations. The Sharp Medical Foundation was formed Dec. 14 to explore hospital options for northern Sharp County.

St. Bernard's Healthcare in Jonesboro is also working on a proposal for managing the hospital as a critical access hospital owned by the county.

St. Bernard's has been researching the demographics and medical needs of the area since December, according to George Fray, vice president for new business at St. Bernard's.

"We want what is best for Sharp County," Fray said. "This has been one of our guiding principles as we've gone through this research."

Fray said Sharp Medical Foundation's offer to Becht will have no effect on their attempts to manage the hospital.

"We're going forward," Fray said. "Most of the people we've spoken to want more than one option for the hospital."

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