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First phase of Jacksonville hospital now open

by Aaron Gettinger Arkansas Democrat-Gazette | March 17, 2023 at 1:56 a.m.
Part of the first floor of Unity Health-Jacksonville is shown in this undated screenshot taken from the YouTube page of Searcy-based Unity Health. The first floor of the new $36 million, 150,000-square-foot hospital has opened to the public as of Thursday, March 16, 2023. (Courtesy Unity Health, YouTube)

The first floor of Searcy-based Unity Health's new $36 million, 150,000-square-foot hospital, built out of a rehabilitated existing facility in Jacksonville, has opened, providing the city with quicker access to emergency care alongside additional health care offerings.

"In a true emergency, every second matters," said Unity Health-Jacksonville administrator Kevin Burton. "While we are still small, a lot of our focus will be stabilization of a truly acute patient, to get them to where they are stable and ready to be transferred to possibly a higher level of care."

Patients may come to the facility at 1400 Braden St. with bronchitis that has transitioned to pneumonia, congestive heart failure or broken bones. The hospital is not yet performing surgeries, so it will try to stabilize patients with severe injuries, like those from firearms, before transferring them to appropriate facilities.

Surgical facilities are to be on the hospital's second floor. "We decided to open with the services we have available on the first floor, to go ahead and get some much-needed services into the community. And then as we expand, we'll open more [medical-surgical nursing] inpatient beds plus our [operating rooms]," Burton said.

The first floor has 13 emergency department beds and five inpatient medical observation beds. It's licensed to have 24 inpatient behavioral health beds, six of which are already open while the rest are set to open pending additional hires in nursing. Radiology facilities are open for outpatient MRIs, CT scans and X-rays.

Burton said conversations with the Little Rock Air Force Base, the Jacksonville city government and local high schools revealed a significant need for behavioral health services.

"We are good at behavioral health; we do it in Newport, we do it in Searcy, we manage Conway Regional's behavioral health unit," Burton said. "We figured we might as well bring it when we opened, because we can."

The new hospital is not a long-term mental health facility. Burton said patients' average stay will last seven days, with the ability for placement into longer care programs. The hospital also has an outpatient mental health clinic; both it and the inpatient unit are staffed by psychiatrists and other clinicians.

Currently, the hospital's main trauma care role is stabilizing patients that cannot be stabilized in ambulances en route to appropriate care centers, and Burton said the hospital is "fully capable" of caring for stroke patients short of surgeries. Those patients are likely to be transferred to the CHI St. Vincent Arkansas Neuroscience Institute in Sherwood, he said.

Burton hopes that the hospital will have a Level IV trauma center to provide advanced trauma patients life support prior to transfer, but that is dependent on a heliport for which the hospital has no concrete plans. A potential solution could be an off-campus landing area like a football field to which ambulances could run.

The hospital does not have a labor and delivery unit but will be able to serve women going into emergency labor at one of its emergency rooms with an OBGYN setup.

Burton hopes to have the second floor open by the end of the year, estimating that the floor will cost $15 million to $20 million more.

"We're going to talk to other physicians in the area to make sure we get those services correct and see what they really need," he said, adding that they are expecting to bid out second-floor build-out according to plans from the hospital's architect, Taggart of North Little Rock.

Administrators have hired 112 employees so far and are looking to hire about 20 additional nurses and laboratory and radiology technicians to staff the hospital's first phase.

"We have a very diverse group here. We very much, to me, look like Jacksonville," Burton said. "I couldn't be happier about the people we've hired here. It's the reason that I can say confidently that people can come here and get great care."

Nonprofit Unity Health began when the then-named White County Memorial Hospital opened in 1967; the system changed names in 2014 as it expanded into multiple counties. The network purchased Harris Hospital in Newport in 2015.

"It's a great day for the city of Jacksonville," said Mayor Jeff Elmore. "It's wonderful for our citizens to have access to world-class health care without having to leave our city."

Print Headline: Jacksonville hospital opens 1st phase


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