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Malden Residents Hear Vote Proposal, Voice Concerns

Johnathan Reaves, KASU News

Credit Johnathan Reaves, KASU News
Dunklin County Commissioners Don Collins (left), Ron Huber (middle), and Patrick McHaney (right).

Dunklin County residents are voting August seventh on two propositions that would, if passed, lead to the construction of a new hospital in Kennett.  There have been several concerns from Dunklin County citizens about the propositions, which led to the county’s three commissioners to hold public forums throughout the county to present information about the taxes that will be voted on.  The first public forum was held Thursday night in the northern Dunklin County town of Malden.  Just over 40 residents showed up at the meeting.

Commissioners Ron Huber, Don Collins, and Patrick McHaney presented information and fielded questions during the hour-long meeting.  Huber started the meeting by presenting the information on what was being voted on and why.

The two taxes that are being voted on are Proposition “Health” and Proposition “Care”.  “Health” is a ½ cent sales tax that will expire after 30 years.  That money will provide the 10 to 12 million dollars to build and furnish the new hospital.  Bonds would be used for the construction, and the money collected would pay back those bonds.  “Care” is a property tax of 50 cents per $100 of the assessed value of property that would be used for the maintenance of the hospital.  One example used was if a home had a value of $100,000, it would assessed at 19 percent of total, which would be $19,000.  Through a formula, the increase that would be paid would be $95, which would go toward the hospital.  

“When we looked at the different ways we could try to finance this project, this was the most efficient way to raise revenue,” said Huber.  “Missouri statutes would not allow an increase in the sales tax rate for operating expenses.”

After the closing of the hospital, the commissioners tried asking other hospitals to see if there was an interest in building a new hospital in Kennett.  Area hospitals did not express interest because capital had been tied up in other projects.  Collins stated that St. Bernards did open an urgent care clinic in Kennett, but they are expanding their own hospital in Jonesboro, Baptist Health is working with an expansion in West Memphis, as examples.  “A few of the area hospitals did say they would be interested in discussing a contract to possibly partner to run the hospital, if the propositions pass,” said Collins. 

The new hospital would be located in Kennett.  It would have up to 10 beds with its own emergency room.  The ER would have 9 treatment rooms.  The hospital would also have 2 surgery suites, diagnostics, lab and pharmacy.  Huber says it about an average size for a rural hospital, but the size of the hospital has reportedly been one area that has concerned some citizens, who are worried that it is too small.  Huber says the hospital would be built to start off small, but there would be room for growth.  He says the old Kennett hospital was way too big and was not efficient.  He says the old hospital building was over 70 years old and was out of compliance. 

There have been concerns about why an emergency room can’t be built as a stand-alone building.  In Missouri, emergency rooms are required to be part of a hospital.  Kennett physician Dr. Steven Pu said about 65 people a day used the ER when it was operating.

“There are some cases that just can’t be seen in an urgent care clinic,” said Pu.  “Urgent care clinics do not have some of the medicine and other equipment that might be needed if certain emergencies do come.” 

He also stated that emergency rooms are required to see people, regardless of whether or not they can pay.  Urgent care clinics can refuse service if someone can’t pay. 

Malden resident Joe Christianson said he was concerned about the profitability of the hospital. 

“I am not sure it will still be operating five years after it opens,” said Christianson. 

Dr. Pu stated the hospital would focus on services that it could make money on, instead of trying to offer everything.  Christianson asked what would happen and how that would affect the citizens of Dunklin County.  Huber said, “As far as I know, we would still be paying for the hospital because it was built on those bonds.”  Huber says the county will not own the hospital, but it would own the building.  He says a management firm or a hospital partner would actually run the hospital.  He says if the propositions pass, a partner would be found, a contract would be signed, and construction would begin.  He hopes a new hospital would open in 2020 or early 2021. 

Malden resident Tina Brown said she is not excited about seeing her property taxes go up, but she says it is still important. “There are over 32,000 citizens in this county and I know there are people who will need it.”  At this point, at least three citizens said they were not happy about the prospect of paying for a hospital that they would not use.  They stated that they are currently using facilities in Dexter or in Hayti, Missouri and wouldn’t go to Kennett.  

Huber said his goal for the meetings were that citizens would be as informed as possible about the propositions before the August 7 vote. 

There are more meetings that will take place the rest of this month.  Here is the list of meetings coming up:

Senath  July 16    6pm  Community Center

Campbell   July 17  6pm Crosspointe Church

Kennett    July 19   6pm  Board of Public Works Internet Building

Hornersville  July 23rd  6pm  Community Center

Arbyrd   July 24th 6pm  City Hall

Cardwell  July 24th 7:15pm  City Hall

Holcomb   July 30th  6pm  Community Center

Clarkton  July 31st  6pm  Housing Community Building

Johnathan Reaves is the News Director for KASU Public Radio. As part of an Air Force Family, he moved to Arkansas from Minot, North Dakota in 1986. He was first bitten by the radio bug after he graduated from Gosnell High School in 1992. While working on his undergraduate degree, he worked at KOSE, a small 1,000 watt AM commercial station in Osceola, Arkansas. Upon graduation from Arkansas State University in 1996 with a degree in Radio-Television Broadcast News, he decided that he wanted to stay in radio news. He moved to Stuttgart, Arkansas and worked for East Arkansas Broadcasters as news director and was there for 16 years.