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Prospective buyer still hopeful for deal on hospital

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Negotiations are continuing for the purchase of the former Eastern Ozarks Regional Health System, and the prospective owner remains hopeful the deal will go through.

"It's still back and forth with (owner Bob) Becht," said Frank Schupp, who is attempting to purchase the 40-bed hospital in Cherokee Village on his own with a group of investors. Schupp said he is reviewing the third draft of the purchase agreement.

"I'm working on it as we speak," said Schupp, a Florida businessman. "The conditions keep changing."

Although the negotiations are taking longer than Schupp had hoped, he remains hopeful that he will be the next owner of the local hospital.

"I guess all of this is a good sign. I'm going to keep in contact with the state licensure to let them know that we're still trying," said Schupp, a consultant for Amerris Health Systems, a Tennessee-based healthcare provider.

Schupp was slated to speak at the Dec. 20 Spring River Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon but had to cancel.

"I actually didn't go so I could review the documents," he said. "I figured that would be more beneficial for the area rather than me speaking at the meeting."

If the negotiations are successful, Schupp, whose master's degree was focused in rural healthcare, said he plans to serve as interim administrator and employ approximately 45 full-time and part-time staff members. So far, he has received approximately 50 resumes, he said.

Schupp, who has been in the healthcare field for 30 years, has been working on diagnostic and inpatient services and intends to apply for licensure for a rural health clinic, a service the hospital provided in the past.

Schupp met with Becht Nov. 23 and negotiated prices and conditions that will allow Schupp and a group of investors to purchase the vacant hospital building.

Taking on new tasks is nothing new to Schupp. Through Amerris he has started 13 hospitals in the Southeast alone, he said. He also owns outpatient businesses in Louisiana and Florida.

Schupp was Amerris' chief negotiator for the hospital almost a year ago. The late Sharp County Judge Harold Crawford contacted the company after he heard reports of Amerris purchasing hospitals in Osceola and Blytheville. Despite Crawford's efforts, taking on a third hospital in the region proved "too much," Schupp said.

Schupp said he thought very little about Eastern Ozarks again until August when he was contacted by Ken Pounders, head of maintenance for the hospital.

Eastern Ozarks closed Dec. 1, 2004, after being cited by the Department of Health for multiple hospital code violations. The Department of Health ordered Becht to sell the hospital this year.

The Arkansas Department of Health licensure division told Becht at the beginning of 2005 that the hospital's license would expire by the end of the year if a buyer could not be found. A slight extension has been issued, Schupp said.

If the purchase is made before year's end Schupp's licensure will be grandfathered by the department. It would allow the facility to operate without compliance with new hospital codes.

If the purchase takes longer and the licensure expires, the hospital will be forced to comply with current state codes. A new hospital would most likely have to be built, according to numerous sources.

The current building would likely sit empty indefinitely, because the deed to the property has a stipulation -- it can only be used as a hospital, he said.

Cover letters and resumes can be sent to Schupp at: 193 Ventana Blvd., Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

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