GAME CHANGER: Wyoming County Community Hospital awarded $20 million in state funds

WCCHWARSAW — In Douglas Berwanger’s description, Friday’s announcement is a game-changer.

The Wyoming County Community Health System has been awarded $20 million in state funding. The money represents the largest sum ever given to the county, and essentially clears the debt incurred by the hospital’s recent and major upgrades.

“We’re delighted,” said Berwanger, chairman of the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors. “It positions us to provide health care to the residents of Wyoming County for a long time, without fear of financial difficulty.

“We feel we’ve made the right moves, as far as bringing in some new administration, and the affiliation with (Strong Memorial Hospital),” he continued. “The business has picked up. We’ve brought in the orthopedic group, the new midwives, the obstetrician. Things are looking pretty good.”

The funding was among more than $95 million meant to improve health care in the Finger Lakes region, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. The money was awarded through the state’s Capital Restructuring Financing and Essential Health Care Provider Support programs.

In a related measure, Orleans Community Health is slated to receive $6,275,528 in funding, while the Oak Orchard Community Health Center will get $105,000.

The WCCHS funding comes as a major relief in Wyoming County. The facility’s major renovations had received strong public support, but the hospital — which provides a necessary service — had long been a strain on the county and its taxpayers.

The county’s Board of Supervisors highlighted the dilemma during a series of public forums in the spring and summer of 2015. They predicted severe consequences if the funding didn’t come through.

Berwanger said it would have meant a very austere budget year, with an even more-austere afterward.

As it stands, the $20 million removes a major burden. The Board of Supervisors will consider how to move forward.

“We’re going to take a step back, because we didn’t want to count our chickens before their eggs were hatched,” Berwanger said. “Obviously the bond payments alone for the (hospital) reconstruction alone was $1.3 million a year, which was somewhere close to 10 or 11 percent of the tax levy.

“That’s a big number, and we’re going to take a look at what we can do if possible,” he continued. “We’ve got roads that need to be paved. We’ve reduced some of the county departments and they should be restored at this point, the Highway Department being the major one.”

One of the questions will be to see what’s changed since the first of the year, when the 2016 budge was enacted, along with which services have decreased.

“What we want to make sure we continue to do, is to deliver the services the people have come to expect and deserve, because they paid for it,” Berwanger said. “Certainly roads are one of the biggest services — something they use every day that will be on the front burner.”

Chief Executive Donald Eichenauer of the WCCHS said the facility had incurred significant debt during the course of its renovations. The state funding, he said, was partially meant to assist hospitals which had taken the proper steps in terms of future health care, but incurred debt in making the improvements.

“Obviously we’re excited about the grant funding,” he said. “This is huge for the county and huge for the hospital.”

Berwanger thanked the state officials he described as instrumental in helping secure the funding.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “There has never been a larger sum of money appropriated to Wyoming County from the state of New York, or the federal government ever, and I have worked very closely with the governor, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and State Senator Patrick Gallivan to make this happen. They were the main players.

“I can’t emphasize enough the fact that it was because of their support that this happened,” he continued. “The governor, Lt. Gov. Hochul and Senator Gallivan, working in a bipartisan effort, made this a reality today for Wyoming County.

Cuomo and Gallivan also commented in a news release.

“We have a responsibility to continue to make critical capital and infrastructure improvements that transform our health care system into one of sustainability, with a deep focus on improving patient care and delivery of vital services,” he said. “This funding allows them to do just that and is yet another example of how New York is leading the nation in adapting to meet 21st century health care needs.”

“Rural hospitals face great challenges in our rapidly changing health care industry,” Gallivan, R-Elma, said. ”I am pleased that Wyoming County Community Hospital is receiving this vital state funding which will enable it to continue to meet the health care needs of its residents well into the future.”