NFL great and former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw praised the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as hospital executives told the UA System Board of Trustees on Wednesday that $97 million is needed to address critical facilities needs.
UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn and Mark Kenneday, vice chancellor of engineering and operations, led members of the board on a tour of three aging facilities designed around the same time period – the Barton Research Building built in 1960, the Central Building, which was the original hospital built in 1955 and is now occupied by clinical support staff, and the Shorey building, built in 1957. Windows are covered with plywood and rooms are air-conditioned with window units because the building was designed without air-conditioning, when patient rooms were cooled by fans.
The Central Building, which is UAMS’ original hospital, is not fire code-compliant in floors 3-8, and the hospital has been given until Aug. 1, 2021, by the fire marshal under a memorandum of understanding to become compliant.
Making it compliant would require $13 million but would result in no significant improvements to a facility that is ill-designed for its usage. It was designed for patient care, so the hallways are wide and there are many private bathrooms, but its 10-foot floor-to-deck space no longer meets code for medical use, so it’s used for support services. As a result, 42% of the space is wasted, and none of it produces revenue.
Razing it and replacing it would cost about $250 million and would require the hospital to find space for 440,000 square feet for employees. So instead, the hospital hopes to spend $97 million to repurpose floors 3-8 on the Central Building, and also to repurpose the Barton building along with Ricks Armory, whose signature rotunda seen along I-630 will be demolished.
Rahn told the board that UAMS faces financial uncertainty because of potential Medicare reductions, the unknown future of the Medicaid private option, and other reasons.
The system has been unable to provide raises to non-classified staff members three of the last four years. Rahn said the hospital already is turning away patients because of a lack of bed space. Without additional revenue, it can only address future shortfalls by cutting personnel, who earn an average of $60,000 apiece. But personnel also generate revenue.
Rahn said UAMS effectively receives less than 1.5% of its revenue from the state. While the actual amount is 7.27%, the hospital must dedicate 5.81% of revenues for federal Medicaid match payments that it uses to cover costs that aren’t covered elsewhere. In the view of the system’s auditors, that makes the effective total only 1.46%, which is less than other teaching hospitals.
“We believe we’re lower than anybody,” Rahn said.
Bradshaw was introduced to the board by Dr. Lowry Barnes, chairman of the Orthopedics Department, whom Bradshaw called a friend. Barnes had performed knee replacement surgery on Bradshaw’s right knee, relieving chronic pain that Bradshaw said had made it difficult for him to walk. Days after surgery, Bradshaw was on the air doing his Sunday football show.
Bradshaw heaped praise on Barnes, on UAMS and on staff members, saying they had passion for their jobs. An Oklahoma resident, he said his experience was so good that he was returning to UAMS later this year for another procedure.
“You could tell that people loved their job, loved what they’re doing,” he said, adding later, “You should be proud. This wonderful medical facility is an awesome place.”