A 10 year half-cent sales tax initiative could be on the ballot this November following a Ouachita County Quorum Court meeting.
The request for the tax came at the behest of Ouchita County Medical Center CEO Peggy Abbott.
Abbott addressed the JP's at Tuesday night's meeting stating the tax, "would be -once again - a reflection of the sales tax that you allowed to go to vote in 2015, and was approved by the voters, a five year sales tax half cent for the maintenance upkeep equipping and repairs to the hospital building that ocmc leases from you the county"
In 2015 , around 87% of voters indicated they were in favor of each of the taxes, according to Camden News reporting. There was an unofficial total turnout of 2,384 voters, with 825 residents casting a ballot during the early voting period.
Abbott said the hospital industry as a whole is suffering stating, 2023 was predicted to be one of the worst years for hospitals and suddenly 2024 became the worst year and now they're saying it will be the end of 2025, or early 2026 before hospitals begin to upturn as inflation maybe levels out.
She added, "And so we came to you because we knew that the hospital needed some undergirding. And why? Because of the challenges and the lack of increases and reimbursements in Medicaid. We have not had an increase in Medicaid reimbursements since the year 2000. Now let that sink in, almost 24 years ago was the last increase of Medicaid. We feel that those Medicaid patients are as important as any other section of the community."
"For Medicare, Arkansas is number 50. on the rate that is paid in America for Medicare patients. We rank 50th," she noted, " We are the lowest reimbursed for Medicare that is base federally on a wage index based on the average wages that are paid in Arkansas. We are talking with our federal legislators if that is punitive to small hospitals, punitive to smaller states because the cost of operations is the same nationwide."
Abbott also stated she is working towards a new designation for the hospital to become a Critical Access hospital, which would allow them to receive a larger settlement from Medicare and Medicaid funding,
"We are trying to change your hospital status from a perspective payment system hospital , a general acute care hospital to critical access. It would not change our services at all. We would continue providing everything that we do,"Abbot said, "We would still deliver babies. We would do surgery. We'd have our drug treatment program. We'd have our ER. We would be a fully operating hospital. We have not met that criteria because we're too close to two local hospitals. There's a 35 mile restriction that you can't be closer than 35 miles."
Abbot elaborated on how the designation would help create more opportunities for federal funding.
"If we were critical access we would receive between Medicare and Medicaid 4.2 million dollars in a settlement we would not have had a 3.9 million dollar loss. We would have a profit. That's why I'm fighting for critical access designation," she said.
Abbott noted that OCMC is the largest employer in Ouachita County with 379 direct employees and numerous contracted employees.
Dr. Dan Martin, Chief of Medical Staff at OCMC addressed the justices stating, "A town that loses its school. is already dead. A town in danger of losing his hospital is in the process of dying"
Dr. Martin said pleas from OCMC have fallen on deaf ears at the federal level saying," I'm convinced there is nobody in Washington that cares that a small hospital exists in south Arkansas or not. They simply do not care. So we come to you. Your hospital needs you. Your county needs you. And we ask you to give this every consideration that you can . thank you."
Justices unanimously approved to bring forth an ordinance at the next meeting that would put the sales tax on the ballot .