PINEDALE – A split vote by the Board of County Commissioners sealed the Sublette County Public Health building’s fate on Tuesday, July 20.
Commissioner Tom Noble moved to reaffirm the previous board’s action deeding the clinic property to the Sublette County Hospital District and expanded the motion to include the Public Health building.
The motion will allow the hospital district to demolish the Public Health building and begin construction on the proposed critical access hospital and long-term care facility.
The motion passed by a slim 3-2 margin, with Noble, chairman Joel Bousman and commissioner Sam White voting affirmative and commissioners Doug Vickrey and Dave Stephens voting “nay.”
The motion also affected the Sublette County Veteran Service Office and Sanitarian. Bousman stated relocating the Veteran Service Office would involve minimal effort and Tuesday's discussion revolved primarily around Sublette County Public Health's fate.
Bousman stressed the need to revisit the critical access hospital project and agreements made between entities due to “major changes” in his board's membership following the 2020 election.
Tonia Hoffman, hospital board chairwoman, and Dave Doorn, the district's administrative director, appeared before the commissioners with the hospital’s lead architect on Tuesday.
J.D. Dreyer, with Davis Partnership Architects, presented floor plans and virtual building models to explain the decision to remove the Public Health building. The end goal is to place Public Health in space now occupied by the emergency room at the Pinedale Clinic, Dreyer said.
In the meantime, every attempt was made to save the building until the hospital project was finished and Public Health can move into the clinic, Dreyer said.
The floor plan presented by Dreyer indicated the existing Public Health building competed for space with the future hospital’s main entrance, lobby area and walk-in emergency entry. The Public Health building overlay part of the emergency department’s triage room.
The overlap would prevent an open, clear entrance area to accommodate patients, ambulances and life-flight helicopters.
“There is obviously a time period where (the Public Health building) needs to be moved,” said Dreyer. “It's one of the very first things.”
An “interim space” would include emergency electrical power for Public Health and refrigeration for vaccines, Dreyer added.
Hoffman affirmed that the district would take responsibility to provide temporary space for Public Health and pay for the relocation.
Doorn stated that the former Rural Health Care District started a dialogue to involve Public Health in the process to find a new home over a year ago.
Stephens expressed frustration that the hospital district’s plans to demolish the Public Health building so soon in the process was not brought to the commissioners’ attention earlier. Tearing down the existing building and requiring the agencies to move would cost taxpayers money regardless of whether the final dollars came from the hospital district or county, Stephens added.
The recent change in plans came after the hospital district hired Layton Construction as a construction manager, Hoffman said.
“We barely hired a construction manager about a month and a half ago,” Hoffman added.
Layton determined starting construction with the existing Public Health building still standing was not a viable option, Hoffman stated.
Jamison Ziegler, a trustee on the hospital board, explained that the hospital district considered three separate bids for the construction manager. Each bidder presented a separate timeline and approach to the project.
“The group we selected, Layton Construction, has a very aggressive schedule,” Ziegler said. “They want to do this project in 15 months and they want to start immediately. Part of that schedule produces nearly $10 million in savings between that group and the other two groups that gave us proposals.”
Vickrey asked Doorn and Hoffman if the loan application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture was approved yet.
Hoffman replied the application was not fully ready yet. The hospital district received additional requests to fill out documentation from the federal agency on Friday, July 16. She believed the forms would be “easy” to fill out, and added the USDA felt optimistic about the loan.
Vickrey voiced opposition to any plan to demolish the Public Health building until the USDA approved the district's loan.
“Slow down and make sure everything is in place,” including an acceptable home for Public Health, Vickrey said.
In the meantime, the hospital district needed to “get their collective act together” and find a suitable location for Public Health, Vickrey added.
Dreyer stressed keeping “the foot on the gas” as prices for construction commodities continued to “rise astronomically.”
“I think we can do both – we can work smart and quick,” Dreyer stated.
Bousman called Public Health's concerns “legitimate,” particularly the need to store vaccines, provide anonymous care to patients and be able to move without spending millions.
Noble suggested the county work with Clayton Malinkovich, the deputy county attorney, to include these concerns as written expectations for the hospital district to follow in the deed when the property is transferred.
Noble reminded the commissioners about the progress made in uniting the community behind the critical access hospital project after a series of mediation meetings in January 2020.
Bousman affirmed that the county would not move forward on the transfer of “any of these assets until such time as the loan is approved.” In the meantime, Bousman directed Malinkovich to clarify that the hospital district will pay costs for Public Health’s relocation. Bousman also recommended a memorandum of agreement between the district and county to ensure Public Health's concerns are meet.
Ideas for a temporary Public Health location were already in the works spaces and a meeting is scheduled next week between the county, Public Health and the hospital district, Bousman told the Roundup.
At the hospital district’s regular meeting on July 21, Mike Hunsaker, chief operating officer for Star Valley Health and the Sublette County Hospital District, said finding space for Public Health was the district’s “most pressing issue.”
He said the district would do its “due diligence” to “meet the obligations of Public Health” and work with Lee and Layton to establish a demolition timeline.