Monday, September 23, 2013

EDITORIAL >> For a Pledge of Allegiance

 We began to wonder if North Metro Medical Center was having financial problems when the large glass sign at the entrance to Jacksonville Medical Center went unrepaired for months after perhaps being vandalized with a rock or baseball. It is still in need of repair.

It’s what the public sees. Appearances are all-important for a hospital that needs to make patients and visitors feel they are in an environment that will deliver good, safe care.

Reassurance for both patient and family is essential when someone is ill. And it’s also essential for personnel who may worry about layoffs or worse.

It should go without saying that hospital equipment should be clean and in good repair and available when needed. Supplies should be adequate for patients and personnel. Broken equipment, a non-working ATM, empty hand sanitizers and faulty air conditioning are more than distractions and point to bigger problems that erode confidence of employees, patients and the community. This is what your public sees even if it’s not the whole story.

It’s been long rumored that the hospital is in trouble, long before Allegiance’s time. But some services, such as the emergency room, have always delivered exemplary care.

Interim administrator Cindy Stafford said she met with North Metro’s employees after The Leader’s story about the hospital’s unpaid utility bills. She wanted to reassure them that their jobs aren’t in jeopardy. (“Hospital almost comatose,” The Leader, Aug. 31.)

Stafford took the bull by the horns, and held staff meetings to reassure her 400 employees that payment plans were already in place and the hospital’s payroll is secure. The hospital, a 78-bed acute-care facility on Braden just off John Harden Drive, had a payroll of about $17 million in 2012 and about $1.1 million per month this year.

Allegiance Health Management purchased North Metro from the city in 2010 for more than $10 million, but Allegiance first took over management of the hospital soon after the economy had taken a nosedive in 2008.

A positive balance of $652,000 in 2003-04 plummeted to a loss of $3 million by 2006-07 just before the markets crashed. So Allegiance had a pretty good idea of what it was getting into then, even more so when it finalized the purchase from the city in April last year.

Allegiance has continued to stress its commitment to Jacksonville and to rightly emphasize the economic impact North Metro Medical Center has on Jacksonville and the surrounding area.

We praise Allegiance for its commitment and we laud its drive to improve the facility, but time is of the essence.

Mayor Gary Fletcher has repeatedly emphasized that emergency services are essential to the presence of Little Rock Air Force Base, and the city is using North Metro as a selling point in a serious bid to acquire the state’s new $25 million veterans’ home.

A top-notch emergency room continues to be a must for the base and the area that lies between Searcy and Jacksonville. Trauma victims from gun-shot wounds or vehicle accidents are stabilized and treated and transferred elsewhere if a trauma center is required. But North Metro is the first line in trauma stabilization from transports from south of Searcy to Jacksonville. There’s a large area to the north, which is not served by a hospital. Allegiance should capitalize on that and tout its services.

Allegiance Health Management of Shreveport is known for specialty medical fields including inpatient geriatric psychiatric units, intensive outpatient psychiatric services, and long-term acute care such as takes place in rehabilitation settings.

North Metro has expanded all of these services and more, including a medical imaging department staffed 24 hours a day and a diagnostic collaboration with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. This should further instill public confidence in North Metro.

Also sophisticated specialized wound care is delivered by Healogics, a Jacksonville, Fla., company.

According to its website, “Allegiance Health Management believes in teamwork and a collaborative approach to solving the issues we as healthcare providers face in our daily operations. We stand behind our corporate motto, ‘Pledging Allegiance to Excellence in Customer Service.’”

Continue to show us that you mean it, Allegiance.