CEO David Deaton

Ozark Health CEO David Deaton: “For a little country hospital we provide excellent care.”

CLINTON — A discussion about a hospital has two components. The first is the details, the numbers, numbers of patients, numbers of treatments, that sort of thing. Doctors speak of this a lot, about the statistics backing up a particular therapy for a particular condition. Medical care is detail driven and details are driven by numbers.

The second of the two components is the feeling. Caring, the reason hospitals are built, is a feeling, and for that matter not feeling well is what often brings clients to hospitals. Friends and families in waiting rooms don’t want to hear about numbers, they want to hear about health, about the person they care about recovering, they want to have the feeling of care taking place.

Ozark Health CEO David Deaton knows something about this, about the two components, as he speaks about the hospital and the hospital’s asking to have its half-percent sales tax extension approved by voters in the November election.

The conversation starts with watching a short video about the hospital, showing clients and doctors as well as staff from Ozark Health discussing their experience with the facility and how they feel about it. In one case a former patient talks about having a stroke and being treated, the feeling, receiving a TPA shot, the details, which ultimately allowed him to regain his health.

Deaton explained the details further: Ozark Health has established a partnership with Little Rock -based UAMS. In the case of the stroke patient, specialty trained UAMS physicians were able to interact with Ozark Health emergency room doctors in diagnosing the patient via a teleconference screen, “telehealth” as it is called in healthcare, and prescribe the TPA shot. The TPA shot broke the blood clot which had caused the stroke, in turn allowing recovery for the patient.

In the past, pre-telehealth, the patient would need to be taken into Little Rock, and a trip of that length, with a clot of that type would have likely caused permanent damage since minutes, the details, count. Now the patient feels betters, his wife sitting next to him, the feeling.

Other stories from the video, a patient in cardiac rehab who just did not look right to the therapist and being sent for additional medical care before it became a crisis. The details. He feels better, the feeling.

Deaton, a pile of notes before him, goes into various points of information. In requesting the tax vote some bad information has gotten out, he said, about specifics of hospital operations.

One had been the hospital not participating in the Arkansas Department of Health -managed Arkansas Trauma Program.

This had been true in the past, Deaton said, although the hospital had been a member of the program now for just under two years. The problem had come years earlier when the Department of Health upped the requirements for Trauma Program, requiring a lot more paperwork and training in order for hospitals to participate in the program.

This created a burden for Ozark Health Emergency Room doctors who are family physicians working two shifts a month at the hospital, Deaton said, and the hospital stopped participating in the program. This occurred at a number of rural hospitals in the state, he said.

Since then the Department of Health had streamlined its requirement and the hospital had returned to participating in the program in the “last year or two,” Deaton said. The level of care remained the same as it had in the past, only the paperwork requirement had changed.

During this same time the hospital had become certified as a “Stroke Ready Hospital” by the Department of Health.

Deaton paused at this last point, with some concern. People had been driving past the hospital, going on to hospitals in Conway or even Little Rock due to a mistaken notion that Ozark Health would not be able to offer the appropriate level of care, he said. More bad information.

A question about a one-time offer for a Little Rock hospital offering to buy Ozark Health led to a conversation about the nursing home.

The bad information was that Ozark Health had refused the purchase, since the same offer did not including taking over the nursing home, part of the Ozark Health facility.

No offer had ever been made, Deaton said, although “that rumor,” as he called it, had been going around “... as long as I’ve been here.”

“Ozark Health is not for sale,” Deaton said.

The Ozark Health Nursing Home had its own bad information, Deaton said.

Currently the home has “about” 75 clients, he said. At one time, in 2018, it was down to a client count in the sixties due to a requirement for sheet rock removal. The requirement came from a 2018 flood which damaged sheet rock and required replacement.

By the nature of it being a nursing home, the area where the repairs were being made needed to be sealed off from the rest of the facility, and testing had to take place to assure no mold was forming or had formed in either the sheet rock or the insulation.

No reports of mold were forthcoming, Deaton said, despite repeated tests. As new material was being put in it the backing insulation was treated with what he called “a serum” to make sure no mold would grow unseen.

“I was never made aware of black mold – no reports,” Deaton said.

Since then repeated air quality checks take place and the nursing home continues, for that and a slew of other reasons, to maintain its five-star rating, Deaton said.

The five-star rating is awarded by Medicare, and puts the home in the top 15 percent in the country.

“The nursing home is very core to what we do here,” Deaton said.

He explained how, by the home being adjacent to the hospital, care for the clients was able to be given “without an ambulance ride.”

The tax

And Deaton wanted to be clear on the plans for the proposed sales tax extension.

“It [tax revenues] would not be used for routine expenses,” he said.

Routine expenses include things like salaries, day-to-day operating expenses, he said.

Instead revenues would be used for extra-ordinary expenses, such as when a roof needs replacing, the air-conditioner needs a new controller (a million-dollar-plus proposition), parking lot repaving, emergency room lighting (tens of thousands of dollars) or when additional work needs to be done to meet new and updating care requirements, such as new equipment.

A case on point on care was the plans, still in the early stages, to re-purpose a part of the hospital to be used as a sleep study center. Another plan is to update the nursing home to permit care for advanced dementia patients, who require a more-secure facility.

This would be typical as previous extensions of the half-percent tax, used to fund the building, then expansions to the emergency room and later, expansions to the care, such as radiology equipment.

Deaton points to the situation the hospital was in when it moved from the old building, which is now the County Annex, to its current building. In the old building they were dealing with “some decay,” Deaton said. The problem is, he said, that along the way upkeep needs to take place in order to maintain a modern hospital.

“There are times when you don’t need more building but you need to repurpose what you’re doing with the building,” he said.

The tax revenue would be used for “Capital improvement as needed [and] maintenance projects as needed,” he said. This is the same model being used for 24 other hospitals in the state serving rural communities, he said.

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