Green River Star -

By David Martin

Hospital explores funding for proposed surgery center


Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County may have a method of working around the county commissioners for funding its proposed ambulatory surgery center.

Last week, hospital officials hosted a public meeting to present funding options for the surgery center they’ve researched, as well as to highlight the need for such a facility at the hospital. Barbara Bonds, a bonding attorney from Cheyenne working with the hospital, said a bonding method exists that would allow the hospital to receive bonds without approval from the county commissioners.

Hospital officials approached the Sweetwater County Commissioners earlier this year in regards to approving a revenue bond issue to pay for the $43 million facility. The commissioners unanimously declined that request, believing the debt the hospital would take on, in addition to debt it’s already servicing, would be too much. The commissioners’ concerns stem from worries about future revenues, which are already predicted to result in a $5 million shortfall for Sweetwater County in the next fiscal year.

She said the hospital could use its nonprofit foundation to apply for industrial development revenue bonds for use toward the surgery center’s construction. Using those bonds would allow any governing body within the county to be the bond issuer. Municipal governments, regardless of size, could vote to approve the bond.

However, Commissioner Reid West believes the county will have the final say.

“All roads lead to the county courthouse,” he said.

He was unclear if using the foundation would work the way Bonds proposed, as the county holds the deed to the hospital, saying the county would have to sign off on any improvements to the hospital campus.

Another option available to the hospital would be to utilize the Sixth Penny Tax to collect the needed funds. Commissioner Wally Johnson said he felt that method would be the best alternative for the hospital after the commissioners denied the hospital’s bond request, however hospital officials believe they’ve approached county residents enough for their expansion projects. The Sixth Penny Tax was used to help fund renovations in the hospital’s emergency room and later used to build the medical office building.

Hospital CEO Jerry Klein said the board has reservations about going to voters again, however a timing issue is involved as well. The hospital expects to face competition from a private healthcare facility under construction in Rock Springs.

Waiting for another Six Penny Tax ballot to add the surgical center on to would take years. Additionally, concerns exist about voters tiring of paying for building expansion and construction work through the tax, which is mostly used for infrastructure needs, and voting against the surgery center in an election.

“If we can build off our revenue, we should,” hospital board member Gene Carmody said.

Klein believes timing is everything for the ambulatory surgery center and if it’s not built soon, the hospital could lose a competitive edge in attracting patients, which could hurt the hospital in the future.

The hospital has other options available to fund the building as well. Due to its great financial health, private investment firms have expressed interest in building the facility and leasing back to the hospital toward an eventual purchase. Klein said six companies have approached the hospital regarding a public-private partnership to build the surgery center, two of which are very eager to begin work.

Bonds said investors like investing in “Wyoming paper” because the risks associated with the investments are often low and they see returns on their investments.


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