Construction on new hospital in West Memphis complete, should open in December


Construction on the new Baptist Memorial Hospital-Crittenden County is virtually complete, employees have been hired, and the hospital is slated to open Dec. 3, BMHCC President and CEO Brian Welton said during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday (Nov. 5) in West Memphis. The hospital will cost about $43 million to complete, and will employ about 115 workers, according to the company. West Memphis has been without a hospital since Crittenden Regional closed more than four years ago.

“It’s been 1,520 days since this community has had a hospital to call its own. That’s 1,520 days without an in-patient bed, without emergency services, without a CT scanner. And that is changing very soon,” Welton told the crowd.

County voters approved a one-cent sales tax hike in 2016 to pay for the hospital. The tax will be collected for five years, and it was projected to raise about $30 million. Collections have been slightly higher than anticipated, and it will likely be closer to $32 million. The rest of the project cost will be covered by Baptist Memorial Health Care, a company that operates 17 healthcare facilities in the Mid-South, including NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro.

Baptist has a 10-year lease on the new hospital and a 10-year renewal option. It can also buy the hospital after so many years, Wheeless said, but it has to keep the hospital open for a set number of years, or ownership reverts back to the county. Economic developers in West Memphis and nearby Marion have lamented about how hard it is to lure job creators to the area without a viable hospital.

It’s estimated the hospital will see about 25,000 patients each year. Crittenden Regional had 150 patient beds, but there were only 16 patients in the hospital when it closed, Wheeless said. Baptist is taking a slow and cautious approach, and it’s the right way to handle the situation, he said.

The hospital has been designed so it can be expanded. Two major U.S. interstates – 40, and 55 – meet in West Memphis meaning millions of people travel through the region each month. The high traffic could mean more people seeking healthcare, he said. Talks about an industrial “super site” in Marion have begun again, and if jobs are created the healthcare needs in the county will grow. The hospital will be the latest, state of the art model in the Baptist system, Welton said.

Soil stability was a problem when construction began.

“We have 3,200 earthquake drainage systems that are below us that had to be driven 50 feet down into the ground in order to stabilize this site in order to be able to build on. We have over 160 million pounds of dirt that had to be hauled here to be able to support this structure,” Welton said.

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