by Max Brantley
A tipster tells me Bill Walker, head of the Arkansas Department of Career Education, and Robert Trevino, head of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, were on hand in Hot Springs for an announcement this week that the state will be closing the hospital portion of the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center in February, a move said to mean the loss of 30 jobs.
My source says a lack of federal money will be blamed. I guess the agency didn't consider foregoing a planned office expansion on Capitol Avenue — including new executive offices for Walker and Trevino — as an alternative. They could cut back on some of those departmental pep rallies at the Metroplex and other retreats, too.
Occupying a portion of the former Army-Navy hospital, the center is one of a handful in the country that helps people with both life-long and new disabilities to live independently, according to a description in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History. It has focused more on vocational services than medical services and has been operating only 27 hospital beds, the encyclopedia says. I'm presuming vocational activities will continue there, with a staff of more than 200.
I have questions out to the agency. Hours later, I'm still waiting, but a worker in the field said the center has been questioned for efficiency by the federal agency that provides the bulk of funding in two reports over a four-year span, most recently this year. A heavy percentage of rehab employees are concentrated in Hot Springs, to the detriment of field services around the state. A reduction in expenditures in Hot Springs, in the view of this source, might not be a bad thing. The federal report I've linked is long on jargon, but it says essentially that the agency hasn't done a good job demonstrating the worth of its work. The state has spent about $15 million annually there to serve about 1,000 people, the federal report says.
UPDATE: I got a message from Agency Director Walker that a response is in the works. He did send word in the message that the department hoped no one would lose jobs in a planned reorganization. Some 25 to 30 jobs will be ended, but he said he hoped those could be covered by attrition or moving employees to other jobs in state government.
UPDATE II: State news release confirmsplans for a move from a "medical model" — a 24-bed acute care hospital serving an average of three people a day. The change has been directed by the feds.