BUFFALO — While talking with friends and neighbors on Main Street and attending legislative sessions in Cheyenne, Mayor Shane Schrader said it has become painfully clear to him that Buffalo is a city divided.
“It’s heartbreaking to see the division that has formed between the hospital and the community,” Schrader said. “I am not a physician or a nurse and I do not have all the answers, but my big concern is the division that has been forming. How do we move forward?”
Members of the Johnson County Health Care Center board and medical staff met with members of the Buffalo City Council and Johnson County Commission on Monday to take the first step in bridging the divide between the city and county officials, who have spent months lobbying legislators for a skilled nursing facility for veterans in Buffalo, and the health care center board and staff, who have spent months lobbying against it.
The result of the meeting was a draft memorandum of understanding between the city, county and health care center. The MOU states that, in the event that the skilled nursing facility negatively impacts the health care center’s ability to recruit and retain certified nursing assistants and other necessary staff, the commissioners and city council will support efforts to add an initiative to the ballot that would increase the health care center’s mill levy. This would allow the center to offer wages that are comparable to those offered at the skilled nursing facility, which would aid in employee attraction, according to interim CEO John Osse. The health care center currently receives 3 mills, which provided roughly $1.24 million in fiscal 2019.
In return, the health care center will stop lobbying against locating the skilled nursing facility in Buffalo, Osse said.
During their Feb. 4 meetings, both the county commission and the city council voted unanimously to sign the MOU. Taking advice from Deputy County Attorney Barry Crago, the commissioners added a line to the MOU to specify that it does not encumber future boards.
Commissioner Bill Novotny said he was encouraged by the efforts to work together.
“I believe that there can be a solid working relationship with the hospital, and this is a great place to start,” Novotny said.
A VA skilled nursing facility would provide long-term care to veterans, their spouses and Gold Star families. The sites are built through a VA grant program, which pays for 65 percent of the cost of construction.
Earlier this year, Buffalo — along with Casper and Sheridan — was selected by MOA Architecture as a potential home for the facility. If located in Buffalo, the facility will be built on the campus of the 117-bed Veterans’ Home of Wyoming.
County and city officials, including Novotny and former Mayor Mike Johnson, have lobbied to locate the facility in Buffalo and have said the facility would not only help boost the local economy but also allow for continuity of care for veterans currently living there.
By Stephen Dow
Buffalo Bulletin Via Wyoming News Exchange