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Saline Memorial Hospital

Originally known as the Saline County Memorial Hospital, present-day Saline Memorial Hospital was constructed in 1954 in Benton (Saline County). The hospital was created in response to the rising population of the Benton area following World War II, the Korean War, and Saline County’s postwar industrial boom. The hospital had forty-two beds at its creation and cost about $325,000 to build. In 2017, Saline Memorial Hospital encompassed approximately 400,000 square feet, with 177 beds and more than 180 active and consulting physicians.

According to census data, the population of Benton was 3,502 in 1940 and had nearly doubled by 1950 to 6,277. In February 1955, Saline County judge Charles O. Smithers named the first governing board for the hospital. Dr. Theodore Swinyar was appointed its first chief of staff, Dr. John Ashby was his chief of surgical service, and Dr. William Davenport served as chief of obstetrics and gynecology. Dr. Paul Hogue was named chief of medical service, and Elizabeth Daugherty Bush served as hospital administrator. Saline Memorial held its first open house in June 1955. A large plaque was placed that bore the names of the hospital’s board members, builders, and its architect, Bruce Roy Anderson of Blaylock & Associates mechanical and electrical engineering firm.

Saline Memorial was the first county-owned and -operated hospital in Saline County. One of Saline Memorial’s longest-serving members of the board of directors, and one of the most instrumental financiers, was Henry Jackson Gingles, originally of Cabot (Lonoke County). Since 1922, Gingles had owned many businesses in Benton and also served on the State Hospital Board of Control during the administration of Governor Carl E. Bailey. Gingles remained on the board from its inception in 1954 until his death in 1963.

Saline Memorial continued to grow throughout the 1960s. On June 24, 1962, the Arkansas Democrat reported that a new dental department was being added to take care of “risky” patients who, for example, needed dental work but might also be suffering from heart trouble. The Democrat reported that a twenty-five-room, thirty-one-bed annex was added to the hospital in 1961. However, just two years later, the hospital had so many patients that beds were being moved into the hallways. After 1969, many residents from nearby Bauxite (Saline County) and its neighbors had moved to Benton or nearby Bryant (Saline County) following the abolishment of Bauxite as an Alcoa company town. By May 15, 1973, Saline Memorial had ninety-six beds.

On March 11, 1980, the Arkansas Gazette reported that Saline Memorial had applied for a grant of $1,230,000 from the Central Arkansas Health Systems Agency to expand and renovate its emergency room and outpatient facilities. On April 10, the Central Arkansas Health Systems Agency approved it, allowing the hospital to have a new trauma room and four more treatment rooms.

By 1984, however, Saline Memorial was at the center of a financial scandal that lasted more than seven months. On March 5, 1984, hospital administrator E. F. Black Jr. resigned unexpectedly after an emergency board meeting. The next day, chairman of the board Dr. Jim Porter called for an investigation. Saline County’s prosecuting attorney asked Circuit Judge John Cole to call for a grand jury and an investigation of the hospital’s finances by the state police. Eight months later, in November 1984, nine former employees had been implicated in the scandal. Those accused eventually pleaded guilty to crimes such as misuse of hospital funds, insurance fraud, theft, falsifying medical records, and profiteering, among others. Black alone pleaded guilty to thirty-eight of the forty-eight counts against him and was sentenced to twenty years in prison, while his wife, Linda, received three years of probation.

Saline Memorial moved into the twenty-first century with new leadership. On June 26, 2005, Saline Memorial celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. At that time, it had a reported 167 beds, sixty active physicians, and another eighty consulting physicians. Its campus encompassed 240,997 square feet of inpatient and outpatient facilities, a separate home hospice unit, a clinic in Bryant, full ambulance service, and two medical office buildings. That February, a 35,000-square-foot surgery center was opened in Benton.

On April 3, 2016, the hospital announced that it was partnering with Capella Healthcare of Franklin, Tennessee, “in hopes of enabling long-term prosperity for the hospital.” Capella’s CEO and president, Michael Wiechart, said, “The partnership, which is set to take effect July 1, will be a joint operating model in which the two organizations share ownership of the hospital.” A board made up of members from the hospital and Capella Healthcare began governing the hospital’s day-to-day activities while Saline County retained ownership of the hospital’s campus. Saline Memorial was honored with the Governor’s Quality Award seven times in a row and the Healthgrades Patient Safety Excellence Award three times in a row.

For additional information:
“Black’s Plea Ends Hospital Scandal.” Arkansas Democrat, October 27, 1984, p. 1B.

“Hospital Applies for Need Certificate.” Arkansas Gazette, March 11, 1980, p. 7A.

“Hospital to Add Dental Department.” Arkansas Democrat, June 24, 1962, p. 11A.

“Patients Overflow Hospital.” Arkansas Democrat, January 22, 1963, p. 16.

Saline Memorial Hospital. http://www.salinememorial.org/ (accessed September 7, 2017).

“Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton to Celebrate 50 Years on June 26.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Tri-Lakes Edition, June 19, 2005, p. 149.

Yarbrough, Anne Nash. “Benton Provides New Facilities to Accommodate Population Boom.” Arkansas Democrat, January 29, 1956, p. 19C.

Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Last Updated 9/7/2017

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