CLINTON, Okla. (KFOR) – The Clinton Regional Hospital has sat empty for eight months, but now after being issued a new license to operate, a reopening date is on the horizon.

The City of Clinton City Manager, Robert Johnston previously told KFOR the hospital’s facility manager, Alliance Health, backed out in 2022 which left the city scrambling on their next move.

“We could not come to an understanding, a mutually beneficial understanding,” added Johnston. “The [State Department of Health] license which had originally belonged to the city had been transferred to other operators. [It] was not transferred back to the city to operate the hospital as we had planned for.”

The hospital was forced to shut down December 31, 2022 at 11:59 p.m.

The two closest medical facilities are Weatherford Regional Hospital and Cordell Memorial Hospital. From city lines, both hospitals are between 15-20 minutes.

Then, there was some light at the end of the tunnel when Clinton voters passed a proposition detailing $11.6M to go towards the reopening of Clinton Regional in March.

The first step in reopening the hospital was opening an urgent care facility on the south side of the hospital.

The City of Clinton still didn’t have a State Department of Health license, but Johnston said having the architect out there would allow them to submit drawings, have the State Department of Health review that and go from there.

Carrus Health oversees the urgent care facility and initially signed on as the new facility manager. However, Carrus Health then fell through.

“The aspects of that contract have fundamentally changed with, you know, the loss of licensure, which you know, initially [we] did not realize was going to take place. And then the need to, you know, bring up that building to today’s current operating standards in the post-COVID environment. Obviously, it’s extremely expensive,” explained Carrus Health President and COO, Jon Rains.

Before Carrus Health decided to no longer act as the facility manager and solely focus on the urgent care center, 79 Clinton Regional Hospital full-time employees were laid off.

“I just wanted to be very transparent about, you know, what the situation was looking like, because that’s a commitment that I had with the employees there in Clinton,” said Rains.

Johnston previously said over the course of three months, those employees were paid over $500,000 every month bringing the total to $1.5M+ spent on employee pay/benefits.

A portion of those benefits were pulled from the hospital’s $11.6M budget, said Johnston.

“Once the money was freed up in the March 7th election, we’ve been using some of that as an investment to keep the team together,” added Johnston. “It just wasn’t financially feasible to continue to pay for the pay and benefits of employees during this interim time.”

Those employees’ pay/benefits ended on April 30.

A possible reopening date as of April 24 wasn’t until another 18 months, according to Johnston.

Johnston told KFOR on Tuesday the last eight months had been filled with ups and downs, but luckily, the hospital has now hit a huge milestone.

As of August 1, the City of Clinton now has a license to operate the hospital.

“I think I speak for the locals that it was always a question of when instead of if we got this hospital reopened. Once we got the license, that provided the information we needed to proceed with the next steps to get this facility open and serving the public as soon as possible,” explained Johnston.

He said it’s been a difficult process trying to obtain a license and at times it was discouraging.

“Definitely times you wonder, well, what exactly is going to happen?,” asked Johnston.

The license issued by the State Department of Health is for a 22 bed facility, rather than the previous 56 beds.

News 4 toured the hospital with Johnston and the hospital’s interim CEO, Reva Burton Tuesday morning.

The hospital was being cleaned, walls were being painted, and upgrades were already in progress.

Johnston said the hospital has recently received new beds and radiology equipment. He added there is more equipment the city is in the process of purchasing right now. The air conditioning system has also been improved.

The hospital maintained a “skeleton crew” and currently has 10-12 employees, according to Johnston. The city is looking to reopen with 50-60 employees.

Johnston told KFOR the city hasn’t locked in a reopening date yet, but he’s hopeful the hospital will open its doors this fall. If not in the fall, the goal is no later than the end of this year.

“It’s a very good feeling and it is definitely a roller coaster-like experience in that deep, deep, deep depths. Sufficiently deep for me. [I] definitely feel like we’re on the upswing now. Once we got the license, does it mean there won’t be challenges, you know, delivery issues or something that we just can’t foresee,” stated Johnston.

He said getting the license was one of the harder steps to accomplish. Now that’s done, he’s excited to get the ball rolling.

Aside from paperwork, the next step in this process is for the hospital to be surveyed by an accreditation organization to institute the agreements between the hospital and Medicare.

Burton said Northeastern Oklahoma Management Services Organization (NOMSO) was engaged by Clinton Regional to evaluate the conditions of participation by the centers of Medicare and Medicaid.

“NOMSO works with dozens of Oklahoma hospitals to ensure environmental care and life safety standards meet with the requirements and compliance of [Medicare and Medicaid] and other regulators. We quickly realized that Clinton Regional Hospital was substantially compliant and with the right adjustments could be reestablished quickly as a functioning regional hospital,” stated Burton. “Although the regulations are challenging and comprehensive, they were not overwhelming for NOMSO.”

Burton called the hospital’s closure unfortunate. She said she’s thankful for the support of numerous groups including the Northeastern Health System Tahlequah and the Christiansen law firm.