June 15, 2011 Edition

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Lawrence Health Services President Terry Lambert (left) shows Cong. Rick Crawford the new nurses station at Lawrence Memorial Hospital during Crawford's visit to the hospital on Thursday.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt

Cong. Crawford visits
healthcare facilities

Gretchen Hunt

Cong. Rick Crawford was in Walnut Ridge Thursday for a visit to Lawrence Health Services.

He toured Lawrence Memorial Hospital and Lawrence Hall Nursing Center, followed by a meeting with the LHS Board of Directors.

Crawford was joined by staff members, including Andrea Allen, a native of Hoxie, who serves as his district director.

"One of his priorities was to visit every hospital in the First District," Allen said. "Healthcare is obviously one of the top issues right now."

LHS President Terry Lambert told Crawford while LMH is a smaller hospital and not able to do every procedure a larger hospital can do, the existence of the hospital is vital.

"We know there is probably not a week that goes by that we don't save a life of someone who would not have made it to Jonesboro," he said.

He stressed the economic impact of the health system, as well.

"We provide 350 jobs and are the biggest employer in the county with a $9 million payroll," Lambert said. "It would be devastating to the community to lose this hospital. We want to be here - and we want to be here for the long run."

Crawford also commented on the need to be sure the smaller hospitals receive the support they need.

"We know the larger hospitals will be OK," he said. "Critical access hospitals, like this one, Salem, Newport, Helena, Wynne, need to be here or it will threaten the quality of life. It's really critical that we work hard to keep your hospital in existence."

Lambert shared that locally, citizens of the county have continued to show support for the hospital through a half-cent sales tax.

"That support is vital to our hospital being able to provide an emergency department," he said. "It generates approximately $750,000 in revenue, but it costs us $1.2 million a year just to have a physician 24-7."

Lambert said at some point, the board might have to go back to the taxpayers and ask for a full cent.

"We are efficient, and I might even say frugal," Lambert said. "We are good stewards of the money given to us, but it's getting more and more difficult."

In addition to funding concerns, board members shared issues such as Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates, community healthcare centers and their affect on others in rural medicine and a need for more support of rural hospitals.

Kim Williams, director of quality/risk management, spoke about seeing the regulatory burden increase as reimbursements are continually cut.

"The federal regulatory burden is more pronounced than it ever has been," Crawford said. "We are aggressively engaged in trying to find areas where regulations are duplicative and there is an overlap of agencies."

The status of healthcare reform was discussed, as well.

"We are not against all that is happening," Dr. Ted Lancaster said.

Crawford agreed that the intent to reform healthcare is good, but he believes more work is needed.

"There are a handful of good things in the current legislation," he said. "There is a lot worth hanging on to, but we need to throw out the rest."

Crawford said a lot of people are in favor of appealing the current legislation.

"That's fine, but if we do that, lets keep the good stuff and build on that," he said. "We have a real active medical caucus with at least 10 physicians in Congress. They are very passionate about these issues, and there is a lot of expertise there."

Crawford said his visit to LHS was about continuing to add to his knowledge of the needs in the healthcare industry.

"Y'all are in a position to help me learn the issues that are important to you," he said. "I learn something different from each visit."

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