McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

May 3, 2013

Keith: McAlester hospital needs new Emergency Department, ICU

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — Due to increased numbers of patients in the hospital’s Emergency Department and the need for additional space in its Intensive Care Unit, the administration at McAlester Regional Health Center wants to construct two new buildings on the hospital grounds.

Hospital CEO David Keith says the need is there.

Now all he has to do is convince the hospital board, the city council and voters in McAlester.

The hospital board would have to approve the plans and McAlester voters would also have to sign off under the current proposal. The McAlester Regional Health Center is a trust of the city of McAlester, and the city has prohibitions about going more than $500,000 in debt without voter approval.

For there to be an election for voters to consider the question, the McAlester City Council have to pass an election resolution.

Keith briefly alluded to the need  for a new ICU facility and Emergency Department — commonly known as the Emergency Room — during the Wednesday afternoon meeting of the McAlester Regional Health Care Authority’s board.

“I plan to replace the ED and ICU in the next 12-to-18 months,” Keith said during his CEO report.

MRHC Authority Board member Susan Kanard asked if Keith meant he planned to renovate or remodel.

“We’re building a new facility,” Keith said.

MRHC Authority Finance Committee Chairman Evans McBride noted that numbers of patients going through the ED as well as the hospital’s Urgent Care facility have been increasing and asked Keith about the reasons.

“We have more people with greater health care needs that don’t have the financial wherewithal” to pay for it, Keith said. Sine MRHC is a public trust of the city of McAlester, the hospital is obligated to see those patients.

When the economy’s not going well, individuals are more likely to visit the Emergency Department or Urgent Care facility than to seek primary care, he said.

Keith also said the hospital has been certified as stroke and diabetes centers of excellence.

More people are having confidence in the hospital.

“Whether it’s real or perception, it’s gone up,” he said.

“It’s not just the ED; it’s confidence in the hospital.”

Following the meeting, the News-Capital inquired further about the plans.

Although he said he didn’t have an exact cost, Keith said he’s hopeful both facilities cold be constructed for approximately $8 million.

According to current plans, Keith said the proposed new ED would cover approximately 17,000 square feet and the new ICU facility would cover about 16,000 square feet.

If approved, the proposed new ED would be constructed on the hospital grounds just east of the current facility and would be connected to the existing ED, perhaps by an awning.

The proposed new ICU facility would be near the new Emergency Department.

Asked how the hospital would pay for the new projects, Keith said doesn’t plan on seeking a new city sales tax to finance it.

“We’re going to have to fund it through operations,” he said.

In other words, he would like for the hospital to be able to borrow the money or go through a bond measure to get the money for the initial construction, with the debt to be paid  from money made through operating the hospital.

That’s why the voters in McAlester would have to approve the project, according to the current plans.

“I can’t borrow over a half-million dollars” without voter approval, Keith said.

He said the hospital’s current Emergency Department had been constructed in the 1970s to handle approximately 12,000 patients a year,

Some of the most recent numbers show the ED is handling approximately 29,000 a year, he said. When Urgent Care patients are added — some of whom stop by the ED first — the number rises to well over 30,000, according to Keith.

Keith had also noted the existing ED had been constructed before the widespread use of computers which the hospital uses today —  meaning there are few shelves or other places where computers can be placed.

At one point during the hospital authority’s meeting, board member Weldon Smith inquired about an occasional shortage of hospital beds.

“Do we not have enough beds to take patients from the ED?” Smith asked.

“No, we don’t,” Keith answered. Sometimes patients go through a triage procedure and are placed in a hallway, he said.

Having enough beds means more than simply adding a physical hospital bed. Staff has to be on hand to care for the additional patients as well.

Keith also referred to the amount of patients now going through the ED.

“We do not have the capacity to manage the 30,000 patients that come through our ED each year,” he said.

Also, some patients that come through the hospital’s Emergency Department need to go to the Intensive Care Unit — which also needs expanding, Keith noted.

Keith is hopeful his plans for construction of a new ED as well as a new ICU facility at the hospital will be approved — by the hospital board, by the city council and by the voters of McAlester as the proposals move forward.

Contact James Beaty at


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