Baptist Health-Van Buren fulfilled its annual lease obligation Thursday when it presented a check in the amount of $775,000 to Crawford County Judge Dennis Gilstrap.

“We’re excited as a community to have Baptist Health come in and we look forward to having a relationship that works for both our community and the hospital,” said Gilstrap. “This helps us operate as a county, and the relationship we have with the hospital and with this annual lease, it’s a big part of our budget. Without that we would definitely have to go to other sources to actually balance our budget.”

Baptist Health’s purchase of Sparks Medical Center became official Nov. 1.

Harrison Dean, Baptist Health’s regional president for Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, said while the check meets a contractual obligation, equally important is the representation of the organization’s role in Van Buren and Crawford County.

“Obviously we have been selected as a steward and our responsibility is to not only fulfill the lease obligations but we’re here to meet the needs of the community,” he said. “That’s really what we’re about, fulfilling our obligation. But, more importantly, I think the county foresaw many, many, many years ago the need for somebody who knew how to operate the facility and really address the needs locally. That’s where I say the stewardship part of it comes in, is that the foundation and vision was weighed decades ago and we’re here to steward that vision.”

Dean said he’s heard the way the community feels about having Baptist Health in this area and understands how that translates into what his organization should be doing for the citizens.

“When I’m in the community in general the greatest thing that impresses me about Crawford County and the hospital in Van Buren is the great sense of pride in having the hospital and its level of care and quality of service,” he said. “So our challenge is to take that and keep that whole, but also to improve it.”

Jake Abrey, who has been in his position of administrative specialist serving in Van Buren for almost four months, was also on hand for the check presentation at the fountain in front of the Crawford County Courthouse.

“We’re really excited to see what services we can begin to offer in Van Buren that may have been neglected or overlooked over the past couple of years,” he said. “We do feel like there are quite a few things that can be offered at the hospital to better address the needs of the community.”

He continued, “Maybe they come to Fort Smith for some of those services now, but we think we might be able to address some of those locally at the hospital here.”

Gilstrap added, “Community wide there’s been an excitement with Baptist Health coming to town, to Fort Smith, Van Buren and Crawford County.”