LOWVILLE — Bonding was unanimously approved on Tuesday night by the Lewis County Board of Legislators for the $33 million capital project to construct a new surgical pavilion and restructure and renovate the existing Medical-Surgical floor.
Lewis County Health System Chief Executive Officer Gerald Cayer said the serial bonds that will fund the project will be for 25 years at two percent interest.
During the public hearing preceding the vote, resident and “long-term hospital employee” Donald Arthur spoke at length, expressing concern that there have been “too many generalizations, not enough details, too many assumptions,” in the information provided by hospital officials for the board to make an informed decision.
“I’m not saying that renovations and updates to the physical plant are not necessary, however, I believe this $33 million project as proposed exceeds both the medical needs of Lewis County and secondly, the proposed project exceeds the financial means,” Mr. Arthur said.
He specifically questioned whether or not surgical procedures are appropriate for a hospital like the Lewis County facility.
In a separate interview, County Manager Ryan Piche said that surgeries bring in crucial revenue that help to subsidize other services at the hospital that would not necessarily be profitable on their own while health system Board Chairman Michael Young said at the hearing that local residents prefer to get their healthcare locally.
Beaver Falls resident John Jones spoke in favor of the project although he wondered if there would be an impact on tax payers.
District 5 Legislator Richard Chartrand, the county’s representative on the health system’s board, responded during the discussion period during the bonding resolution vote that the hospital believes bond payments can be covered with revenue and that tax payers will not see an increase in their payout.
Mr. Cayer said the Hospital Foundation is working on a significant fundraising campaign to help limit the amount of money that will be bonded.
In answer to Mr. Jones’ inquiry about renovations to the Adult Day Care area through the project, Mr. Cayer said those plans have been put on hold because the program’s future is not clear because it may not be possible to reopen the program in the location under social distancing rules.
The hospital team is, however, considering alternative spaces with access to the outdoors, he said, acknowledging the need for adult day care with skilled nursing capabilities.
With the funding stream secured, Mr. Cayer said they will be submitting the state Certificate of Need application next week after vetting the information page-by-page one more time.
“Then I think it will be several months because the process will generate clarifying questions and some requests for documentation and that will happen some number of times,” Mr. Cayer said.
He said while he hopes the state approves the certificate in the first quarter of next year so bids can be sought in time for the construction season, it is impossible to predict a date for completion of the intensive vetting process.
“Lewis County right now is a place where we are investing in the future, we are thinking about the future, we are not spending all of our time reacting to the past or reacting to the current situation,” Mr. Piche said. “We’ve got our eye on the ball and we’re very focused on going forward. $33 million for healthcare in our community is a great commitment and I think the legislators should be very proud.”