Downtown Utica location top choice for new hospital

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A downtown Utica location is the preferred site for a new hospital that combines Faxton-St. Luke’s and St. Elizabeth Medical Center.

Now operating under the umbrella of Mohawk Valley Health System, the two inpatient facilities would be consolidated into one across the street from the Utica Memorial Auditorium in Oneida County’s largest city. The MVHS board has settled on a site of some 34 acres between Oriskany and Columbia streets.

The directors’ second choice is the St. Luke’s campus in New Hartford in the event the downtown site doesn’t work out.

The earliest a Utica facility could open is probably 2021.

“We recognize that a new hospital downtown can provide a catalyst for the revitalization of the city of Utica and the entire Mohawk Valley,” said Scott H. Perra, president and chief executive officer of MVHS, in a statement released Tuesday. We look forward to working with our governmental partners and local business and community leaders on moving this option forward.”

Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare and St. Elizabeth Medical Center affiliated in March 2014. The idea of merging the two inpatient facilities into a new, modern one took off in January when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo included $300 million in his proposed 2015-16 state budget “to create an integrated health care delivery system in Oneida County to reduce unnecessary inpatient beds and expand primary care services.” The allocation was kept in the spending plan by state legislators.

Said Perra: “This legislation provides an incredible, once in a lifetime opportunity for us to build a new, freestanding hospital for our community. It is truly a game-changer for our region.”

He estimates the project will cost as much as $600 million, depending on the final location, and take up to six years to complete.

Rome Memorial Hospital is the county’s third inpatient facility.

“The selection of a site for a new hospital is a complex decision that will impact generations to come,” said interim President and CEO Darlene Burns. “By selecting downtown Utica, Mohawk Valley Health System’s board and administration are striving to provide an accessible location that has the added benefit of stimulating the economy in that region.”

MVHS currently has three major locations: the Faxton campus in Utica; the St. Elizabeth Medical Center complex in Utica; and the St. Luke’s campus. There are emergency departments at St. Elizabeth and St. Luke’s. Faxton, which unlike the other two locations is not an inpatient facility, is home to an urgent care center.

Now that the new hospital location has been proposed, the MVHS board and leadership team will engage with a consultant about the best plans for the current hospital locations. No decisions have been made at this time, according to MVHS.

“Throughout the planning and implementation of this new building, it is critical that MVHS continue to be financially sound and able to provide quality medical care for the entire community,” said Perra.

While Utica is the top location for the new facility, the feasibility of building the hospital there remains under review.

“In the event the downtown site proves not to be financially viable, we will move on to our second site option at the St. Luke’s campus, which the board feels will also serve the community well,” Perra said.

The Mohawk Valley Health System board worked with several companies and agencies to determine a site for the new inpatient facility, according to the administrator.

Several local government officials weighed in on the announcement.

“We have discussed and consulted with hospital officials about the location and reuse of hospital property,” said state Sen. Joseph A.Griffo, R-47, Rome. “Based upon studies and analyses, the hospital identified downtown Utica as the preferred site to locate the future hospital.”

He added, “We now look forward to ensuring that the final decision best serves the greater Utica area, as well as the hospital’s patients, physicians and staff.”

Assemblyman Anthony J. Brindisi, D-119, Utica, said, “The new hospital should be centrally located and easily accessible for the people it would serve. The downtown site is on major bus routes, and will be easy for people to access.”

He said studies show that downtown hospitals significantly benefit the areas they are located in.

“Hospital employees would be working downtown, and patronizing nearby restaurants and other businesses,” the legislator said. “It will significantly fuel a downtown revival that is already underway.”

Brindisi added, “The discussion that will soon follow on designing this new hospital is one everyone who is interested in our region’s future should take part in.”

Griffo and Brindisi both praised the state Legislature and governor for investing in the project.

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