The Medical Center of South Arkansas of El Dorado plans to start construction next month on a $3.5 million cancer center.
The cancer center building is part of a $15 million investment in El Dorado health care, an outlay that began last year with renovations at the 166-bed hospital, said CEO Scott Street.
The medical center will partner with Landmark Cancer Centers of Grapevine, Texas, to operate the cancer center, which will be on the first floor of a three-story 50,000-SF medical office building, Street said. The building also will house the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' regional health education center.
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The cancer center is expected to open in the summer of 2020, the Arkansas Business reported. A contractor hasn't been announced.
Street said the renovation project is part of the hospital's goal of making the medical center a destination for health care. He wants to bring back services that the hospital once had, and to introduce services it has lacked, such as urology and neurology.
"All of the `ologies' you can think of we're currently recruiting for," Street said. The hospital is seeking to hire 12 doctors. Last year, it added seven physicians to its staff of 680 employees.
The hospital hopes that by bringing subspecialists back to south Arkansas, it will "keep residents and our future patients from having to travel to Little Rock and other locations for care," he said.
The nearest cancer center is several hours away for El Dorado patients, Street said.
But it's difficult finding doctors to hire because of a physician shortage in those subspecialties; it's also hard to persuade them to practice in a small community.
His strategy to recruit doctors, Street said, is to try to find a connection with a family member of a prospective recruit. "Some type of family ties always is a good recruiting tool," Street said. "The second thing is you obviously highlight the positive things in your market," such as the Murphy Arts District.
About six months ago, the hospital started renovating its patient rooms, which had not been updated more than once or twice since the 1960s, Street said. The renovations include adding state-of-the art equipment to every room.
The hospital is working on one patient wing at a time, and the project, estimated to cost $9 million, will take about two years to complete.
McInnis Brothers Construction Inc. of Minden, Louisiana, is the contractor.
Other work around the hospital included spending $550,000 to renovate the lobby and cafe to bring a "modern decor to the hospital." Street said a fireplace was added to the lobby to create a "warm, inviting atmosphere for those who visit."
He said the lobby and cafe renovations were recently completed.
The hospital also recently opened its Robert C. Tommey Conference Center, which cost about $250,000 and seats more than 100 people. Street said the space had been an unfinished area.
The rest of the money for the hospital's renovation project will be used to buy equipment for its surgery suites and an MRI machine.
Street said that while the hospital's patient volume has increased this year, he's concerned about the rise in the medical center's uncompensated care.
In 2018, the hospital's uncompensated costs were more than $6.5 million, the most ever, Street said.
"We realize health care is expensive for a lot of reasons," he said. "Hospitals have to do a better job of being not only more transparent, but also trying to cut costs and pass those reduced costs on to patients."
He said he's focused on hiring enough health care providers to avoid having to rely on expensive contract labor. The hospital has 10-20 openings in its clinical areas.
"We are constantly trying to reduce costs," Street said.