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Steven Webb knows flipping the former North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville will be a challenge, but the President and CEO of Unity Health is ready for it.
Unity Health of Searcy has already flipped a Newport hospital it acquired in 2015 and weathered the pandemic without firing or taking leave of any of its 2,300 employees.
Last month, Unity bought the Jacksonville hospital and several properties for $ 7.75 million from Allegiance Health Management Inc. of Shreveport, which closed the hospital in 2019.
Webb said Unity will ask the Arkansas Department of Health to re-license it and Unity will start a $ 8 million renovation project that will include the emergency room expansion. The renovation will include 14 exam rooms and four rapid triage treatment rooms, Webb said. In addition to the emergency room, there will be around 10 acute observation beds.
Unity will also add an MRI. “We will be able to do full imaging with CT, MRI, mammography, ultrasound and X-ray,” said Webb. “We’ll have a lab service there to support the community and the emergency room.”
Webb said mental health services will also be added. “Psych is one area where Unity Health has done really well,” he said. “We now have five psychiatric units at our three locations.”
In addition to the Newport and Searcy hospitals, Unity Health has more than 20 medical clinics and specialty centers in eight Arkansas counties.
Webb hopes to open the Jacksonville hospital before the summer of 2022. Taggart Architects from North Little Rock are on board, but no contractor has been hired.
Allegiance began operating the North Metro in 2009 but closed it 10 years later after struggling and leaving Jacksonville without a hospital. North Metro had net sales of $ 18.2 million and a net loss of $ 9.2 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2018. For the fiscal year ended 2017, North Metro recorded a net loss of $ 5.3 million.
In the summer of 2020, an Allegiance representative called Unity to see if they were interested in working with the City of Jacksonville to reopen the hospital.
“We thought this might be a good fit for us,” said Webb. “After many reviews and due diligence, we see an opportunity to ensure excellent patient care and generate positive cash flow that we can reinvest in this facility and community.”
Unity has experience with hospital reversal. In 2015, Unity Health acquired Harris Hospital in Newport, which was in financial difficulty. “We’ve been able to make some changes to the way we run this facility, moving it from an operating loss to profitability,” said Webb, who became Unity Health’s head in 2018. The hospital is now called Unity Health Harris Medical Center.
The unit has also overcome uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. In the early stages of COVID-19, Unity Health, like almost all other healthcare providers, saw a decline in patient volumes during the government-imposed pandemic lockdown.
“Our board of directors made a commitment last March not to financially harm any of our employees,” said Webb. “So we found new jobs for them as our volume decreased.”
Unity began offering drive-through COVID testing with results within 24 hours. A call center was also set up to process COVID-19 questions. Unity also offered an emotional support line for patients for free consultation with a licensed therapist.
According to Webb, Unity is working to expand its telehealth services to provide 24-hour coverage to all local doctors. Before the pandemic, there were about 50 telemedicine visits per month. During COVID, Unity handled approximately 2,000 telemedicine visits per month.
Meanwhile, Unity has no immediate plans for other growth.
“We really want to focus on getting Jacksonville up and running,” said Webb.