Looking hale and hearty, Sen. John Boozman visited Summit Medical Center in Van Buren on Tuesday to talk technology and discuss how the hospital is being affected by new healthcare laws.

Boozman took a tour of the facilities and discussed the impact the Affordable Care Act has had on the smaller hospital.

"One of the things I’m concerned about is community hospitals and protecting them," Boozman said. "We’re trying to work with our medical community to control costs and make sure they have the resources they need."

Boozman, 63, had an emergency operation April 22 to repair a flawed aorta, but was back on the job in June. He toured Summit on Tuesday after visiting the Hamilton House Child Safety Center and Umarex USA airgun manufacturer in Fort Smith.

Anthony Brooks, interim administrator and chief financial officer, guided the tour for Boozman.

"With the changes in healthcare, I think it’s great that he’s trying to see firsthand what’s going on in the hospital," Brooks said.

One of the most important departments visited in the hospital was the emergency room, which gets about 65 patient visits a day, Brooks said.

With a smaller ER, "it’s all about timing; you have to be efficient," Brooks said.

One of the biggest changes for Summit recently is the types of patients visiting the hospital, which Shelly Cordum, chief nursing executive for Summit and Sparks Regional Medical Center, said she believes is a symptom of the healthcare law.

A large percentage of the patients coming to the ER suffer from complex ailments with a higher acuity, or severity, such as diabetes or heart disease, Cordum said.

Without enough primary care physicians to take care of those patients, they are visiting Summit’s ER instead, Cordum said.

Summit is a 103-bed acute care hospital, but Cordum said much of the focus is on outpatient services. Common outpatient surgeries performed at the hospital include gastric banding, gall bladder removal and prostate operations.

Built in 1950 as Crawford County Memorial Hospital, Summit now operates as part of Sparks Health System along with Sparks and a number of area clinics.

"I think what we’re seeing is a shift in patients," Cordum said. "All the hospitals can’t offer a full compliment of services."

Particularly small health facilities such as Summit, Cordum said. Instead, the group of clinics and hospitals work as a system, sending patients to the doctor that can best handle their needs, she said.

To offset the patient increase, the hospital is using all the resources available to it, such as its two $30,000 telemedicine stations which Boozman called "the future of medicine."

The stations have flat-screen monitors and several high-definition cameras, and a variety of physician tools that can transmit a patient’s vital readings being taken at Summit directly to a specialist who is watching the exam remotely, said Patty Brown, trauma coordinator.

To combat the growing need, hospital administrators must look to the future, Cordum said.

"It is important to be open and change the way we operate to survive with the new healthcare environment," Cordum said.