New Hospital Meets the Needs of County Residents after CRH Closure
WEST MEMPHIS - Humility and empathy are two of the most important characteristics any hospital administrator needs, said Brian Welton, the CEO of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Crittenden.
"We are in the business of taking care of people," Welton said. "We have to set examples for the team. Healthcare is very complex. There is so much information out there in medicine and science that no one individual can understand how to safely care for a surgical patient or a patient in the ER. It takes a great team of experienced people to deliver high-quality care. We have a rock star team here at Baptist Crittenden. Part of my job description is to be chief meaning officer helping connect team members to the exceptional work they are doing and the vital outcomes they are delivering. My job is to deliver inspiration, connecting with why what they are doing matters."
Baptist Crittenden opened in December 2018 after the community had been left without a hospital for four years following the closure of the Crittenden Regional Hospital. Baptist chose a new location more accessible to the heart of West Memphis. Voters in the county of 55,000 residents approved a .5 percent sales tax for five years to help build the hospital.
"Voters felt like a new hospital would be a good thing for this community," Welton said. "Baptist felt it contributed to our mission and that this was a great opportunity. We purchased the land and equipment, so Baptist invested a lot. Before we opened, people in Crittenden County had to leave the community to go to an ER department. That is just one of the vital services we brought back. We are also offering seriously needed services such as cancer treatment, GI and general surgery procedures."
The hospital has 11 beds, and an emphasis on the current trend to minimize the need for hospitalizations by providing a lot of services on an outpatient basis and managing patients' health better.
The 1-40 bridge between West Memphis and Memphis closed abruptly May 11 after a crack was found in a support beam. Welton said even before that time, Crittenden Baptist had been seeing a rise in demand for ER and other services. He attributes part of that to people coming out of the height of Covid-19 getting treatment that might have been delayed earlier. There have also been more injuries, possibly due to people becoming more active again.
"The bridge closure definitely made it a challenge for transferring patients to hospitals with a higher level of care," Welton said. "There had to be a lot of additional coordination with EMS services to transfer patients to some of our sister hospitals that provide a higher level of care."
A lot had to happen quickly. The bridge got shut down with little notice. Traffic has been backed up past the hospital since the bridge closure, but the situation has been improving. Welton said the Arkansas Department of Transportation has been working hard to keep traffic flowing diverting vehicles to the 1-55 bridge until the 1-40 bridge can be reopened.
Since most of their patients come from the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River, Welton said the situation has not been overly challenging. The hospital is conveniently located off a service road. There are a few ways for local residents to get to the hospital, so it is not too difficult. And having the ER is critically important.
"People with serious medical issues may not be able to get across the bridge fast enough to be taken care of," Welton said. "We are able to provide life-saving interventions. If we don't have the service needed, we stabilize patients, get them under control, and transport them to another hospital with the next level of care."
Baptist Crittenden faced the same issues as other hospitals dealing with the pandemic. But Welton said there were numerous advantages to being part of the Baptist Memorial Healthcare system whose leadership worked to make sure all the hospitals had the correct amount and type of PPE for staff. During most of the pandemic, they did not experience staff shortages.
"Some nursing staff left for lucrative travel nursing jobs in hot spots," Welton said. "But over the pandemic, we have had a great team that has been able to adapt. Definitely it was challenging the first few months because of how quickly information was changing regarding the types of PPE and cleaning products needed, and how to treat patients. We were able to stay on top of that, so our patients and staff were well protected throughout the pandemic. I feel for some of these smaller hospitals trying to figure it out on their own. It was challenging."
At the time he was interviewed in early July, Welton had concerns about the more contagious and dangerous variants and lower vaccination rates in the county and state. But at the time, they had not seen an increase in new Covid cases in their area. Seven-day rolling average cases were down and there was no increase in cases or hospitalizations.
"I'm hopeful we can continue to encourage people to get vaccinated before we start to see a potential increase in the Delta variant," Welton said. "We have to just keep putting the information out there, get the experts' voices out there, and continue to battle the vaccine misinformation that has been out there."