Let’s talk about the Sevier County Hospital.
First, where is Sevier County? It’s in the southwest corner of the state, and the hospital will be in De Queen.
Second, why are we talking about the Sevier County hospital? It was the source of a fair amount of contention in the legislature’s Peer Review committee Tuesday as some members felt it was “skipping the line” to get Covid money ahead of other projects. And if you read our article this morning, you know that the state’s Covid money is rapidly dwindling. Of like $1.6 billion, there’s less than $300 million left – and more than $800 million worth of projects that want funding – with more likely on the way.
So your place in line, and your ability to actually get on a committee agenda is highly valuable. A few senators were upset that this project was placed on the agenda at the last second.
But let’s talk about this project specifically. Sevier County has been without a hospital since 2018. Apparently the owner of the previous hospital was committing Medicaid fraud, the hospital was closed, and that owner is now in the federal penitentiary – according to testimony given Tuesday. Since then, the residents of Sevier County have passed a 1-cent sales to help pay for the hospital. Administrators are asking the state for $6.25 million in Covid funding to help purchase equipment.
Senator Jonathan Dismang wanted to know what was special about this hospital and why it was pushed ahead of others.
Sen Dismang: We’re just trying to understand how we get here. So where did this one come from and did you all arrive or did the steering committee arrive at the urgency?
McVey (DFA): Their hospital, like Ms. House said, closed due to fraud, and it was Medicaid fraud. The CEO is actually serving time, as I understand, in a federal penitentiary. So you had a hospital closed. Then you have a county with no medical facility there during all of COVID. … it was unique from the other hospitals that are already in existence in counties, which later on we’ll have a restricted reserve request for a contract to review the other hospitals. But this one was a little bit unique from the rest of them.
As I mentioned, this money is for equipment. The hospital is actually set to open by the end of this year and has already hired 96 staff members. and Senator pointed out that this hospital will open with or without this $6.25 million.
Sen Dismang: but you’re opening before the end of the year, regardless if you get this $6.25. You’ve already got purchase orders and shipments coming that you’ve agreed to cover and pay for before this ever left the steering committee.
Revels (Sevier Co): Yes.
House (Sevier Co): That’s correct.
This hospital is in Rep. DeAnn Vaught’s district, and said it’s crucial for there to be a hospital in that area, not just for the residents, but because the county is contractually obligated to provide a hospital for industry.
We’re very poor, very rural, and poverty in our area is high, anyway. But the second would be because we have an industry that actually dictates that we will have a hospital due to the contract that we have with them.
House (Sevier Co): Our hospital is over 35 miles away from any other medical care that our citizens have. And it’s imperative. Our largest industry is the poultry industry, which is Pilgrim’s Pride. And in their contract to stay in our county, it requires us to have a hospital.
The fund was approved through the Peer Review Subcommittee, but it still has to be approved by the full Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday. It’s likely the concerns about process and who gets heard when will continue.
Sen Dismang:You just heard about a hospital that’s had something held for two months without consideration, and it made its way to a supplemental agenda just a few hours before our meeting. That doesn’t make any sense to me. That tells me that the process has been broken, and it’s been broken for a while.