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By Tia Lyons

Staff Writer

The El Dorado City Council has expressed its support of the concept of an assisted living facility (ALF) in El Dorado, but council members said they would like to hear additional information before officially endorsing the proposed project.

The council heard a presentation about the proposed project during a regular meeting May 9.

In 2016, El Dorado native Nile Smith submitted a funding request for an ALF to the El Dorado Works Board, which administers the city’s one-cent sales tax.

Board members denied the request, citing Article 12, Section 5 of the Arkansas Constitution, which prohibits counties, cities, towns or other municipal corporations from becoming “a stockholder in any company, association, or corporation; or obtain or appropriate money for, or loan its credit to, any corporation, association, institution or individual.”

“The city cannot own part of a company, whether it’s for profit or nonprofit,” former EWB chairman Robert Reynolds said then.

At the time, Smith explained that he was operating through the Arkansas Minority Advisory Council, which was established in El Dorado in the 1970s.

Smith also said the ALF project had been in the making for several years, telling EWB members that the Arkansas Department of Human Services had identified the need for 73 beds as adequate space for an ALF to help meet health care needs in El Dorado and Union County.

Smith said the information was based on a federal needs assessment that focused on the aging Baby Boomer population and the availability of quality health care services and found there were no ALFs in the county.

AMAC had submitted an application to the ADHS and was awaiting an approval letter, Smith said then.

An application for nonprofit status with the IRS was also pending, Smith told EWB members three years ago.

He said AMAC was considering a 10-acre site on Mount Holly Road and was exploring funding options for the project.

On May 9, Henry McFadden, of Texarkana, Texas, updated council members on the status of the project.

Acting in Smith’s stead and as a part of what is now the Healing Waters Ministry Luxury Nursing Facility, McFadden said HWMLNF received a Permit of Approval in 2017 from Arkansas Health Services Permit Agency to build an ALF in Union County.

Under the direction of a nine-member commission, the agency is responsible for issuing Permits of Approval (POAs) for nursing facilities, ALFs, residential care facilities, home health and hospice agencies, psychiatric residential care facilities and intermediate care facilities for the intellectually disabled.

McFadden said Healing Waters is the only organization that has been permitted by the state to build an ALF in Union County.

“We talked about it as being an elevation above a nursing home because it’s a new type of facility,” he said.

McFadden explained later that ALFs are regulated by individual states and nursing homes by the federal government.

“In today’s world, assisted living facilities is the new nursing home because Baby Boomers are living longer and they need somewhere to go,” McFadden explained. “Because they are living longer, they don’t necessarily need to go into the nursing home, and the next step, then, is the assisted living facility.”

Support

He said Healing Waters has a specified time frame in which to raise money for the project, which was given a preliminary estimate of $7 million from the AHSPA as a part of the permit process.

“What we need to do is to get as many organizations in Union County to support us as we can possibly get,” McFadden told council members, adding that the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce has tendered a letter of support.

“It will provide jobs, ultimately, of up to 100 people, so it will have a fairly good footprint in terms of economic development for the area,” he said. “Plus, it’s needed.”

Council Member Willie McGhee recalled previous discussions with Smith and former state Sen. Tracy Steele, who is now director of the Arkansas Health Services Permit Agency.

McGhee asked if a site had been selected for the ALF in El Dorado.

McFadden said Healing Waters is still focusing on the Mount Holly site, adding that he did not know the specific address of the property and Smith has the information.

McFadden also said a site had to have been selected and inspected by the state before a POA would be issued.

“The state has been down, they’ve looked it for infrastructure, the commission has approved it and the ball is now in our court to start building,” he said. “If we had all the money, we could start building tomorrow.”

Council Member Andre Rucks asked for clarification on the type of support Healing Waters was seeking from the city.

McFadden stressed that Healing Waters is not asking the city for funding.

“What we want is influence, initially, because with influence, if the chamber of commerce supports it and the city council supports it, we’ll be in a little better shape when we go to the people with the pockets,” McFadden explained.

“Who will be your primary source of funding?” Rucks asked.

While the project is regulated by the state, McFadden said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would, per approval, commit to refinancing a loan at a low interest rate.

Medicaid waivers may also be used to help make residents’ stay in ALFs more affordable.

“I’ll make a motion to support the idea in principle, with the limited information we have,” Council Member Billy Blann said.

Blann later withdrew the motion when other members of the council asked for additional information and suggested that Smith attend the next regular council meeting May 23.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@eldoradonews.com.

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