Chicot County Rural Health Clinic set to close in February, some community members say they’re not happy with that decision

Arkansas News

LAKE VILLAGE, Ark. (01/01/20) — The Chicot County Memorial Medical Center has announced more cuts to alleviate the expenses incurred over the last several years.

Hospital staff announced the closure of the rural health clinic on its Facebook page Tuesday:

It has been our pleasure to serve this community through the Rural Health Clinic. Unfortunately, the hospital cumulatively suffered a loss of nearly one million dollars over the past 3 years.

Due to such a significant loss to the hospital the Board of Directors and the Administration have decided to close the Chicot Memorial Family Medical Clinic, February 13, 2020.

Our Dental Clinic with Dr. Burson will remain open and Dr. Mayfield will continue seeing patients for their surgery needs. This has not been an easy decision to make but we feel it is a necessary one to ensure the long term future of our hospital.

Many took to social media their anger and sadness over the decision. Many heard that Chief Executive Officer at Chicot County Memorial Medical Center, Luther Lewis, made the decision without consulting the hospital board members but he said the decision was approved by everyone.

“Discussions have been going on for the past four months looking at different areas of the hospital and what we needed to do to get our expenses down to equal the revenues we’re bringing in,” Luther said.

“At our last board meeting, it was discussed and the board agreed to set the date.”

During past 3 years, the hospital has lost about $5.5 million of that Luther said the clinic has lost a million.

Many in the community say there have been costly mistakes made when it comes to billing but Lewis said that’s not so much the case.

“There is no question this hospital has billing issues. If every patient has been billed correctly, appropriately, timely, that still wouldn’t have generated enough funds to offset expenses,” he said. “It really takes 20 patients a day to cover expenses.”

“Even before I got here there have been several discussions with the clinic and several members of the leadership team about getting more patients into the clinic but for various reasons the numbers haven’t increased to offset expenses of the clinic.

Luther claims the clinic sees approximately 11 patients a day. Certified Nurse Practitioner, Autumn Bennett said the clinic saw on average 15 patients in December and 16 so far this month.

“Rural health clinics aren’t put in place to make a million dollars a year but they’re put in place to serve an undeserved population and provide healthcare access,” Bennett said.

Some also claim dental clinic expenses are being taken out of funds that should strictly be used for health clinic but Lewis assured that the dental clinic finances are separate from the health clinic, noting that the dental clinic has been “generating enough funds to cover its expenses.

Luther said they’re trying to save the hospital by making these cuts. Others say they’re not keeping the people most at risk in mind.

“Once again you go to the fact that this clinic is needed. Surveys and scores show that we are an asset to the community,” Bennett said

“I understand that in a business you need to make money but this isn’t a business it’s a rural health hospital,” Linda Berkemeyer said.

Berkemeyer is a member on the Chicot Memorial Medical Center’s foundation board. She is among many that believe another reason the hospital has lost so much money is because they were never transparent with the public when issues arose.

“What they should’ve done and what I’ve been saying all along is go to the public and try to figure out a way to do this,” Berkemeyer said. “Instead of making this a done deal, they should’ve had a meeting and said this hospital is in trouble.”

Berkemeyer also agrees billing is the main issue with hospital saying “it’s been the problem since I’ve been associated with the hospital and no one has been able to fix it.”

Another concern for residents is the term limits of hospital board members. Board members are supposed to only serve on the board for six years. Members are able to be reappointed for additional terms and can “succeed themselves for another six years,” Lewis said.

He doesn’t see an issue with the current way it’s handled “as long as they’re doing a good job and working in the best interest in the hospital.”

When Lewis was asked about being more transparent with the public, he said he doesn’t mind.

“I’m not sure how things were done in the past as far as public meetings but as far as getting information out we have no problem with that.”

In the meantime, physicians will continue to see patients and refer them to other clinics for care.

The clinic has one doctor, one full-time nurse practitioner and a part-time nurse practitioner.

Bennett is the full-time nurse practitioner and has received much praise from the community for her care and professionalism.

When she first heard the news Monday all she could do was think of her patients. She said many came to appointments this week in tears because of the future closure.

Berkemeyer and her mother-in-law both see Dr. David and Bennett and said the clinic will truly be missed. She’s received several calls from concerned residents who don’t know what’s next.

There is another clinic, the Lake Village Clinic, that Lewis said people can switch too but it’s not that east for most.

“At least there are other physicians and nurse practitioners,” Lewis said. “Next door to us there’s three physicians, two nurse practitioners and one physician’s assistant so there are other healthcare providers.”

“I had a woman call me last night in tears. She said what am I supposed to do,” Berkemeyer said. “She said now I have to take it all back and try to find another doctor.”

When Bennett was asked if she’d thought about opening her own practice, she said it has been a thought that she has been considering.

Lewis said he or the board doesn’t plan on changing their decision. They’d need $350,000 per year in order to keep the clinic open.

Lake Village Wellness Center will no longer operate on weekends, $5,000/year is needed to keep it open but the community can help

LAKE VILLAGE, Ark. (01/08/19) — The Chicot Memorial Medical Center in Lake Village has been having some financials struggles in recent years. Now, it’s affecting the operation of hours at its wellness center.

“For the past 3 years, the hospital has lost about $5.5 million and of course for it to continue operating long term we have to get the expenses down.”

The wellness center is owned and operated in partnership with the hospital, UAMS and the City of Lake Village. The hospital has already seen staff reductions because of the struggles.

Now, the wellness center will not operate on the weekends. Hospital staff made the announcement on their Facebook page on December 30.

Chicot Memorial (CMMC), UAMS East Regional Campus, and the City of Lake Village have been providing access to FREE health services and wellness through the Community Outreach Center for 11 years. Chicot Memorial has been the main contributor in funding the Community Center at approximately $60,000 a year; however UAMS and the City of Lake Village have also played vital roles in supporting the facility. Due to the expense reduction plan at the hospital for ALL departments we will be reducing the hours at the Community Center. Our goal is to keep a FREE Center for our community to use and continue to live a healthier lifestyle. We are working diligently with our new partnerships, exploring fundraising opportunities and grant funding to achieve this expense reduction goal. The Community Center desperately needs the citizens of Chicot County to pull together and financially support this valuable part of our community.

Previously, the center was open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It was also open on Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Anthony White Jr. is a college athlete at the University of Arkansas at Conway and comes to the gym on weekends when he’s home in Lake Village.

With his case and many other working adults, the hours of operation being closed on Saturday’s doesn’t work.

“That means I need to change my workout schedule,” White said.

He loves going to the gym and especially loves the variety of programs plus the staff that works there.

Chief Executive Officer at Chicot Memorial Medical Center, Luther Lewis, said it’s going to cost $5,000 a year to keep the Saturday operation hours.

Majority of the expenses go towards employee expenses and utility bills. The cut in days of operation will offset the losses.

“It’ll help ensure that we are able to continue operating the wellness center and have the programs available for people in the community,” Lewis said.

The board has considered charging a monthly fee for the center but with the number of people currently attending, it will be difficult to find an acceptable and affordable fee.

“The monthly fee for the center is definitely something that we’ve looked at.” Lewis said. “When you look at the number of people currently utilizing the center, the fee would have to be at such a level that perhaps people couldn’t be able to come and use the center.”

Lewis has been serving as the CEO for about 5 months now. He hopes people learning about the center and what it has to offer will encourage them to begin taking advantage of the center and its benefits.

Members of the community have already joined in in raising money for the efforts. The center has been providing free services to those in Chicot County and many hope residents will help with making sure that continues.

“It’s the only place in Lake Village,” White said. “At least try to uplift it and keep it up if you’re going to be here and if you’re going to come here. Give to a good cause because it’s not a bad cause to have.”

All donations made to Chicot Memorial Medical Center for the Community Outreach Center are tax deductible. If you would like to donate you contact the hospital or the center at 870-265-2878. You can also donate here.

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