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Both sides in a dispute over a Dardanelle hospital will get to air their arguments in a March 21 hearing in federal court in Little Rock.

U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. issued an order Wednesday saying each side will have two hours to make their case.

Attorneys for the Yell County board that oversees Dardanelle Community Hospital are basically trying to evict the hospital operator, Allegiance Health Management of Shreveport. They say Allegiance was $90,000 behind on lease payments as of Sept. 10 and the hospital has been insolvent since Dec. 31.

A lawyer for Allegiance says the hospital is not in arrears, according to a court filing.

Marshall set the March 21 hearing to consider a motion for a receiver, which was filed Monday by the Yell County hospital board of governors.

The hospital, which does business as River Valley Medical Center, is in "an operational and financial crisis -- one that is putting hospital patients at risk," according to the emergency motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Little Rock.

"The hospital's laboratory is no longer functioning as required by state law and is adversely affecting patient care at the hospital and the Yell County community at large," according to the motion from John Keeling Baker and Devin Bates, Little Rock attorneys who represent the board.

"The hospital's blood supplier is owed monies from over 120 days ago and is about to shut off the hospital's blood supplies," they wrote. "Vendors are no longer supplying basic lab supplies and radiology supplies to the hospital because DCH cannot pay its debts. Vendors are also repossessing lifesaving equipment, including a ventilator."

The 25,000-square-foot Dardanelle hospital has as many as 35 beds, depending on configuration, according to court filings. It's the only hospital in northern Yell County, but there is a hospital 5 miles away in Russellville.

Allegiance had agreed to pay $15,000 per month, according to the lease. The five-year lease had been renewed twice and was to expire in 2022.

The hospital board terminated the lease, effective six months from Oct. 17, 2018, but Allegiance contends that the lease hasn't been terminated, according to the lawsuit.

The board requested a declaratory judgment as soon as possible so it would have time to find another hospital operator. A bench trial in the case is scheduled for July 31 in Little Rock.

But Marshall indicated Wednesday that he may rule on the case after the hearing on March 21.

"The court also gives notice that, if it turns out to be undisputed that the board gave timely notice of default, the court may rule on the merits," he wrote in the order.

The Dardanelle facility is a "critical-access hospital." That's a special designation given by the Arkansas Department of Health for facilities in rural areas that offer inpatient acute care and emergency services.

State Desk on 03/07/2019

Print Headline: Judge to let sides in Arkansas hospital case have say in court after filing cites 'crisis'

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