Vital signs still point to hospital project

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The state’s $300 million commitment toward construction of a new hospital in Oneida County has not wavered.

That was the bottom-line message at a news conference Wednesday to discuss the status of the new hospital proposed by the Mohawk Valley Health System. Inpatient and other services now offered at St. Luke’s-Faxton and St. Elizabeth Medical College would be consolidated at one new facility. Downtown Utica is the top choice for location.

Fears about the continued availability of the state money bubbled up in recent days following the realization that
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed 2016-17 spending plan did not include a specific allocation for the project. The current budget clearly earmarks $300 million for it. This development prompted speculation that the state had not seen enough progress in the past year and was ending its involvement and reallocating the money.

With that in mind, County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., Utica Mayor Robert M. Palmieri and MVHS Chief Executive Officer Scott H. Perra were in Albany Wednesday morning meeting with the governor’s senior staff and others to make the case why the state should keep its pledge. The local leaders updated the governor’s representatives on where the project stands and explained that without the state money, there will be no new hospital.

There will be follow-up meetings with the governor’s staff and state Health Department officials.

At a session with reporters at the County Office Building after they returned home, all three officials said they left Albany only hours earlier satisfied that the state money was not in jeopardy. Picente, Palmieri and Perra all said they’re convinced the state remains firmly on board, even if the $300 million is received over several years and not all at once.

“The plug hasn’t been pulled out,” said Picente. “The plug is still in.”

Palmieri said he had a better feeling about the state’s commitment now than when the $300 million was allocated initially.

“We felt very much encouraged,” he said.

Picente described the omission of the hospital project from Cuomo’s budget, which was announced Jan. 13, as a “disconnect.” He expects that changes will be made to the state spending plan in the coming weeks that demonstrate a commitment to the new hospital. Adjustments between when a state budget is proposed and adopted are routine occurrences.

The county official did not speculate whether it will be $300 million all at once or a smaller amount that keeps the multi-year project moving forward — with the understanding that the total will be $300 million.

PIcente said he talked with Cuomo over the weekend about the situation. “The governor’s exact words to me were, ‘We’ll fix this,’” he said.

Perra noted that the full amount is isn’t necessary upfront because it will take as long as six years to pick a site, design the facility, acquire the land and then construct the hospital. He said the current focus is on determining the location — Utica or the St. Luke’s campus in New Hartford — and crafting a financing plan. He hopes these tasks will be done by the end of June. Total project cost is in range of $500 million to $600 million.

He said the hospital has already spent $500,000 on the undertaking.

Perra said that despite the concerns over the state money, “We haven’t stopped anything.”

Although some oppose putting the hospital in Utica, the county’s largest city, “Our preferred choice is to do this downtown,” said Perra after the news conference.

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