By a 7-to-6 vote, the Jefferson County Quorum Court on Tuesday agreed to extend a lease that will pave the way for the development of a new hospital in White Hall.
The special meeting, called by County Judge Gerald Robinson and conducted on Zoom because he said he had contracted covid-19 and still needed to quarantine, came on the heels of last week's 7-to-6 vote on the same measure. Because of how the measure was worded last week, Robinson said the Quorum Court needed to vote on Tuesday's resolution.
Scott Pittillo, chairman of the Jefferson Hospital Association, which is the parent entity of Jefferson Regional Medical Center, and also the chairman of the JRMC board, said after the meeting that he and other hospital officials were glad to see the passage of the resolution.
"We're pleased that the majority of the Quorum Court saw the benefit in passing the lease extension agreement, which will not only drive economic development but also deliver high-quality health care," he said.
The Jefferson Hospital Association had asked for the extension of a lease through 2099, in order to give Anchor Health Properties a 75-year lease and allow the entity to develop what is being called the Jefferson County Special Hospital.
The 85,000-square-foot hospital will be located on the existing property of the White Hall Health Complex on West Holland Avenue.
Plans for the facility call for 40 inpatient rehabilitation beds and 36 inpatient behavioral health beds, an increase from 27 rehab and 18 health beds at Jefferson Regional's original Pine Bluff campus on 40th Avenue.
Hospital CEO Brian Thomas said during the Zoom meeting that pushing the rehab and psych beds to another facility would allow JRMC to be better able to afford to build a new hospital at its current location in Pine Bluff. The current facility, he has said, cannot accommodate the beds being planned for the White Hall hospital.
Justice of the Peace Alfred Carroll Sr. asked several questions of hospital officials, but at the end of the discussion, he urged fellow Quorum Court members to vote against the measure until the members of the quorum court could get together in person and consider the questions more thoroughly. He noted more than once the poor reception and communication provided during the Zoom meeting.
Other members of the quorum court had concerns as well, such as wanting to wait until the language of the resolution was edited to include more particulars about the arrangement. But Robinson said the information had either already been included in members' packets or would be included in the final wording of the resolution.
Robinson, who last week called the vote for the extension a "no-brainer," said he was hoping for more "yes" votes, but said he would take the results as a win.
"We just needed a majority and we got it," Robinson said. "But it's sad that we didn't get a bigger majority. At the end of the day, this is good for the citizens of Jefferson County and will provide much-needed services. And it didn't cost the county anything."