Guest speakers Sandy Murphy -- representing both Modern Woodman of America and AR Health Networks -- and Sharp County Hospital Association board member Larry Bronson, made presentations at the meeting.
Murphy introduced the AR Health Networks as an affordable insurance alternative for both self-employed and small business owners. The funding, which makes the insurance available, came from the tobacco settlement. She said financial guidelines are very liberal and she has had very few who have signed up for the insurance be turned down. The health insurance can be purchased for as low as $25 a month, and Murphy said all doctors within the state accept it. The plan also offers a liberal number of annual office visits, low deductibles, as well as pharmacy benefits. Murphy welcomed anyone interested to contact her regarding the insurance.
Bronson then offered an update on the status of the Sharp County Hospital proposal. Bronson explained the board had submitted a request to put a county-wide one percent sales tax on a special election to help finance construction of the hospital.
An architectural rendering of the 20-bed, state of the art facility, to be built along the four lane for easy access, was on display. Bronson did not reveal the cost, but as with any large project, the cost could be high.
"If the quad cities want this, they can have it. We have the numbers. It is a countywide issue -- some of the money will be used to support the ambulance service, which is in dire straits. They are currently the only ER we have." He said the White River Clinic is simply an extended-hours doctor's clinic. During the 'Golden Hour' when a patient may be experiencing a stroke or heart attack, many go to the clinic because it is their only option, and must be taken by ambulance to another facility and, by that time, the critical hour is gone.
Many residents lose their lives as a result of inadequate access to a hospital that can address this type of medical issue.
The Foundation has contracted with a law firm to have the sales tax initiative put on the ballot, and Bronson encouraged residents to speak with their county representatives about the issue.
The foundation board will go back to the Quorum Court November 21, with both its legal and bond council, to explain the particulars of the ordinance, the type of bond issue and the amount needed to fund the project.
The special election will be sometime in January or February of 2012, depending on guidelines for the electoral process. Bronson believes the sales tax will raise about $1.7 million dollars a year, allowing for the construction of the new hospital.
The tax rate will allow the county to spend up to $18 million, although he said the foundation does not expect to spend that much on the facility.
The hospital would be a two-story facility with 20 patient rooms, a fully equipped emergency room, open 24/7, state of the art imaging center, laboratory, pharmacy, administration and food service.
The model was created based on a hospital in Clinton, where Bronson said the county has very similar demographics as Sharp County.
He explained the small rural hospital has an $8 million annual payroll, with 180 jobs.
After the money is rolled over, the hospital has an approximate $50 million dollar impact on the Clinton area.
He then discussed the impact of the hospital on the area. Bronson explained how many residents are leaving the area, selling their homes and being forced to close their businesses, because there is not a hospital in the county.
The county is currently in the process of creating a natural gas system, which is vital to attracting new industry. He said the hospital would be one of the major customers of the system, if it becomes a reality. "I see this as the engine and the key for the future. Although no one likes taxes, it is time for this community to think about how we are going to move forward. This could be the catalyst for this, it is our key element we don't have."
Bronson went on to tell the group the sales tax is a commitment from the county, and explained the hospital needs to be run as a business, and expressed the importance of attracting top class administration.
After speaking with representatives from NEA, St. Bernards, White River and OMC, Bronson said they were all receptive to the hospital -- an indication that attracting experienced management will not be an issue for the Foundation.
He explained the cost is simply $1 per hundred dollars and, after completing a survey last summer at Walmart in Ash Flat, 60 percent of the tax dollars spent at the retailer came from both neighboring towns and visitors to the area.
In other business SRACC board member Betty Waser told the group organizers were very pleased with the recent benefit for Beth Bess. The Slaying the Dragon benefit raised $12,000 for Bess, who is the president of the SRACC. The money will be used for expenses related to Bess's medical treatments since being diagnosed with leukemia, as well as living and personal expenses during her stay in the hospital. Other funds from accounts set up at area banks are not included in the total.
Waser also welcomed five new members to the chamber. The members included Riverview Campground in Hardy, The Eagle's Catch in Cherokee Village, Heidi Emerson, Mary Kay representative, Family Fitness and Happy Days Diner, both in Ash Flat.
The Chamber of Commerce meets monthly on the third Tuesday at noon at an area restaurant. The public is welcome to attend these Dutch treat luncheons.