SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Senate passed House Bill 82 on third reading Thursday, which will authorize the state to build a state-run skilled veterans nursing facility in Buffalo.
The decision settles a year of debate over the location of the facility, which a state study concluded should be located in either Buffalo, Casper or Sheridan.
The bill was amended several times during the legislative session, switching the proposed location between Casper and Buffalo, with some legislators arguing Buffalo would struggle to staff and maintain the facility.
Physicians in Buffalo shared those concerns, and both the Johnson County Health Center and individual physicians in the hospital district encouraged the Legislature not to place the facility in Buffalo. Physicians worried the community would not be able to provide an adequate level of care and the hospital district expressed concerns the veteran’s facility would damage the JCHC’s financial viability.
Those concerns were partially eased last week when Buffalo, Johnson County and the JCHC entered into a memorandum of understanding that promised the local governments would support the JCHC in efforts to expand its resources in the event that the veteran’s facility negatively impacts the districts bottom line.
Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, urged senators to help the municipalities meet those commitments, now that the debate was settled.
“Now that we know (the location), the Senate must support and follow through on our commitment to military veterans,” Anderson said.
He added that the state has a vested interest in the success of the facility as it will have to partner with the local governments on a loan to fund the facility.
“Failure is not a possibility; we have to help Buffalo succeed with this,” Anderson said.
Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, who fought for the facility to be located in Buffalo for much of the session, promised to work hard to ensure the facility is successful.
“You have my commitment, the commitment of the (Johnson) County Commission, the (Buffalo) town council, the hospital, the we will pull together with the medical community and we will see this succeed and we will see the best care provided for our veterans, it’s what they deserve,” Kinskey said.
Some senators still had concerns about the long-term viability of the facility, however.
Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, said he was less concerned about the location of the facility than the size of the community. He said veterans, like most people, would seek nursing home care close to their families and the Legislature should have either chosen Casper for the proposed facility or downsized the proposed facility and placed it in Buffalo. Scott ultimately voted against the third reading of the bill.
“I think by putting the full larger facility (in Buffalo), we are asking for a facility that will not have adequate customers, will not have adequate revenues to spread the fixed costs and will be a drain on our General Fund going forward,” Scott said.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, expressed similar concerns and also voted against the bill.
“We’ve had other instances where we, with much enthusiasm, established state institutions that became only local assets the required continued subsidies from the state for their operations,” Case said.
The bill passed on third reading with a 24-6 vote.