The Saratoga Sun -

Medical debate continues

PVHP, MHCC appear before Saratoga Town Council for separate requests

 

November 27, 2019



In recent months, both the Platte Valley Healthcare Project (PVHP) and Memorial Hospital of Carbon County (MHCC) continue to pursue their plans of expanding healthcare in the Valley. Many of those discussions have taken place in the council chambers of the Town of Saratoga. While the PVHP has continued its pursuit of a critical access hospital, MHCC announced their intentions over the summer of establishing a clinic in Saratoga.

During the Nov. 19 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council, both organizations provided updates to the governing body and made requests of the council. In both cases, questions have been raised about decisions made by the council seemingly outside view of the public as well as perceived conflicts of interest.

PVHP

PVHP Chairman Will Faust informed the governing body about the non-profit organization’s recent purchase of property outside town limits. The property, which was one of five potential sites reviewed earlier in the year (see “Sites and sounds at healthcare meeting” on page 11 of the June 19 Saratoga Sun), sits between the United States Forest Service district building and the Whistle Pig.

Faust also informed the council that the PVHP was preparing to submit their draft application for funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Part of that is the request that I have for you guys tonight to consider. We have now visited Encampment, Riverside and the (Carbon) County Commissioners and received positive letters of support for the project,” said Faust. “We would hope and ask that the Town of Saratoga’s governing body would do the same.”

Councilmember Steve Wilcoxson, who has been a vocal supporter of the proposed critical access hospital, made the motion that the Saratoga Town Council sign a letter expressing support for the project. The motion passed by a vote of 3-1 with Wilcoxson and council members Jon Nelson and Judy Welton voting in favor. Councilmember Bob Keel voted against signing the letter of support.

“I will sign the letter,” said Mayor John Zeiger. “It’s no secret that I’ve had mixed feelings on this project ... but the majority of this council has made the motion and have approved the letter.”

Conflict Of Interest?

In the days following the meeting, concerns were expressed that Keel’s vote presented a conflict of interest as he is employed by MHCC. A letter addressed to the Town of Saratoga and local media outlets from Ellie Dana a day after the town council meeting read, “On the issue of providing a letter of support to the Critical Access Hospital Initiative, an item that has been contentious and often debated, Councilman Bob Keel did not abstain, despite the fact that he is employed by the Memorial Hospital of Carbon County, a business that has publicly argued against such a facility and sees themselves as a direct competitor to the initiative.”

The letter ended by requesting that Keel “abstain from any further discussion, motions and/or votes related to Platte Valley Healthcare.”

The Saratoga Sun spoke with media law attorney Bruce Moats and public access advocate Jim Angell in the days following the meeting. Both Moats and Angell, when asked if Keel’s vote on the letter of support presented a clear conflict of interest, stated that it did not as there was not a clear conflict as defined by Wyoming State Statute.

Under Wyoming State Statute 9-13-106(a), it states “A public official, public member or public employee shall not make an official decision or vote on an official decision if the public official, public member or public employee has a personal or private interest in the matter.”

The statute further defines a personal or private interest as one that is “direct and immediate” as opposed to “speculative and remote.” The statues goes on to read that the interest is one “that provides … a greater benefit or a lesser detriment than it does for a large or substantial group or class of persons who are similarly situated.”

MHCC

Following the request from the PVHP for a letter of support, Bob Quist, interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for MHCC, was given the floor. Quist informed the council that his attendance was related to MHCC’s plan of establishing a clinic in Saratoga, adding that MHCC was seeing the “vast majority” of Valley residents in Rawlins.

“We want to make sure that we’re able to handle them out here and have a facility that is worthy of the Valley,” said Quist.

Quist then stated MHCC had “several potential sites” for their proposed clinic with one of those sites being property owned by the Town of Saratoga across from the ambulance barn for South Central Wyoming Emergency Medical Services (SCWEMS). This property was also one of five potential sites considered by the PVHP earlier in the year (see “Sites and sounds at healthcare meeting” on page 11 of the June 19 Saratoga Sun).

“We would also request that, at that point, if we were successful bidders on it that we do a special use permit or a zoning change from residential to commercial. We think its location would be appropriate for that,” Quist said. “I know that you’re governed by state law as to what you have to do in terms of presenting or selling, disposing, of that property as a municipality.”

Under 15-1-112(a) of the Wyoming State Statutes, any property valued at more than $500 must first be advertised, along with the description of the property and terms of the sale, once a week for three consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation within the community. It goes on to state that the municipality must either accept the highest bid or reject all bids, either in a public auction or through sealed bid.

Under 15-1-112(b), however, municipalities may forego the process of public auction and hold a public hearing, which must also be advertised for three consecutive weeks along with the appraised value of the property. Furthermore, under 15-1-112(b)(i) the municipality may sell any property to the State of Wyoming, any agency of the state or federal government authorized to hold property in its own name, any political subdivision of the state or any person acquiring the property for a use which the governing body determines would benefit economic development.

After Quist announced MHCC’s interest in the property, the Town of Saratoga’s legal counsel, Tom Thompson, stated that the property would need to be appraised.

“I understood there was an appraisal. Is it not current?” asked Quist.

Appraisal Questioned

Zeiger responded to Quist’s question, stating that the property had been appraised, but that the governing body had not received the official documentation. This seemed to come as a surprise to Nelson, who asked when the property had been appraised.

“We talked about doing it the same time we did the clinic,” replied Zeiger.

Minutes from the July 17 Saratoga Town Council, published on page 14 of the Aug. 14 Saratoga Sun, contradict Zeiger’s statement. During the July 17 meeting, the motion made by Keel was to appraise the Corbett Medical Clinic. Additionally, reporting from the July 17 meeting (see “Landfill closure, records cost” on page 1 of the July 24 Saratoga Sun) show that the motion made by Keel was to appraise only the clinic building owned the Town of Saratoga.

Documents made available to the Sun show that the appraisal of the property was performed on Aug. 27 with an invoice presented to the Town of Saratoga on Sept. 25 from Young Appraisals of Laramie, Wyo. Additionally, two separate checks paid to Calvin Young, owner of Young Appraisals, were approved in the amount of $3,500 and $2,500. The former was approved during the shortened Oct. 1 meeting and the later was approved during the Oct. 15 meeting of the governing body.

Quist informed the council that MHCC intended to “wrap this up” within 45 days, referring to establishing a clinic in Saratoga. It remains to be seen, however, what decision the Saratoga Town Council will come to in regards to the property in question.

The next meeting of the Saratoga Town Council will be at 6 p.m. on Dec. 3 at Saratoga Town Hall.

 

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