- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (AP) - A hospital in West Memphis facing $30 million in debt is asking voters to approve a 1 percent sales tax to prevent the facility from closing.

An increase in uninsured patients, cutbacks in federal programs such as Medicaid and doctors relocating or retiring has left Crittenden Regional Hospital in West Memphis facing $30 million in debt.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported Monday (http://bit.ly/1jNqJG0 ) that hospital administrators are asking for help in the form of a sales tax. Crittenden County voters will cast ballots on a 1 percent sales tax on June 24 that, if approved, would be collected for five years and generate about $30 million before ending in 2019.

Crittenden Regional Hospital CEO Gene Cashman says the medical facility would likely close if the measure fails.

Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless said that if passed, the total tax in Marion will be more than 10 cents a dollar.

“Ninety-nine percent say they need a hospital,” he said, “but they also say they don’t have much more money to give.”

Paul Cunningham, executive vice president at the Arkansas Hospital Association, said more than 20 hospitals in the state are receiving funds from sales taxes or property taxes.

Cashman said if Crittenden County voters approve the tax, the 150-bed hospital will use the revenue to recruit more physicians. Currently, the hospital employs 420 physicians and staff workers.

“At Crittenden, 78 percent of our patient mix relies on Medicaid or Medicare,” Cashman said. “We need to have a tax to allow us to get our balance sheet in order.”

Wheeless said losing the hospital would devastate the county of 50,000 people.

“The economy hasn’t recovered in this area, and if we keep raising taxes, business will be saying we’re driving people across the river (to Memphis) to shop.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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