MARBLETON – The Marbleton Town Council declined to pass a resolution requested by Scott Scherbel, chairman of the Sublette County Rural Health Care District board, to support the proposed critical access hospital at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 8. The council also declined to pass a resolution offering financial support to the proposed project.
The health care district recently applied for a $25.4-million loan to fund the construction of a new critical access hospital at the BloomField site in Pinedale. On Sept. 26, Lorraine Werner, rural community programs director at the USDA, denied the loan. Her reasoning included “excessive” project fees, a failure to keep the scope of the project “modest” and a lack of “widespread” community support for the project.
The health care district board of trustees voted, 4-1, at a special meeting on Oct. 2 to have an independent mediator resolve claims disputed by the district in Werner’s denial letter. Trustee Wendy Boman offered the single dissenting vote.
The trustees then passed a unanimous motion to go before the town councils of Pinedale, Big Piney and Marbleton to request resolutions of support for the proposed critical access hospital.
Scherbel represented the district board at the Marbleton Town Council meeting and requested that the council pass a resolution “affirming or negating support” of the critical access hospital. He also requested a resolution committing the town of Marbleton to financially support the project.
The health care district needs the resolutions to demonstrate to the USDA that the proposed critical access hospital has strong community support, Scherbel explained at the meeting. The second resolution on financial support was “icing on the cake” for the health care district, Scherbel said.
Thayne Peterson, Marbleton’s town attorney, raised concerns about passing a resolution in support of a proposal filled with details that the council may not be aware of. Scherbel replied that all aspects of the proposal were “made public and available to the towns.”
Councilman Mack Bradley stated that he was not in favor of supporting a proposal with a $28-million price tag. He told the council that he supported what he believed was the initial proposal by the health care district to upgrade existing facilities for $6 million.
“When did the track switch?” he said.
Councilman Roger McMannis said he was under the impression that Werner’s original figure for project costs stood between $8 and $10 million.
Scherbel replied that Werner’s original figure for the proposed project was actually $20 million. The $25.5 million requested in the loan application to the USDA included $17 million for construction, Scherbel said. The remainder reflected equipment and staffing costs.
Scherbel also clarified that the $6 million set aside for upgrading existing facilities cited by Bradley was part of a “different project altogether” from the proposed critical access hospital.
Scherbel added that Werner was “incorrect” in her estimation that the proposed scope of Sublette County’s hospital did not compare favorably to other rural hospitals in Wyoming. A loan to build a new hospital in Thermopolis that was “the same size and cost” to Sublette County’s proposal was recently approved by the USDA, Scherbel added.
Councilman B.J. Meador said that the USDA “did its due diligence” when they denied the loan. He said he trusted the USDA’s opinion and believed that if the agency found “other issues hanging out there,” then the health care district’s proposal was inadequate.
Bradley warned that a vote on a resolution to support the proposed critical access hospital could have political ramifications for the council when elections roll around.
Councilman Jeff McCormick raised the issue of public support for the health care district’s proposal.
“The people in the community I’ve talked to are not in support (of the proposed critical access hospital),” McCormick said.
Mayor Jim Robinson said he agreed with McCormick’s assessment.
“There is too much division in the county over this issue,” he said, “This is not the time nor the place to resolve the critical access hospital issue.”
The mayor then asked the council if any members wanted to make a motion to pass a resolution to support the healthcare district’s proposed critical access hospital. No motions were made. The mayor then asked if the council wanted to make a motion to offer financial support to the proposed project. No motions were made on the second question.
The rural health care district still has the opportunity to request motions of support from the town councils in Big Piney and Pinedale.