Against a backdrop of confusion, doubt and controversy surrounding the future of healthcare in America, HealthAlliance of Ulster County is hoping to break ground in June on almost $90 million worth of new construction at its Mary’s Avenue and Broadway campuses. The Kingston city planning board, after a five-month review, gave final approval last week to the construction of a four-story, 110,000-square-foot addition to the former Benedictine Hospital. Completion is anticipated for late 2019.
As HealthAlliance CEO David Scarpino surveys the scene, there is no choice but to go forward with the project, for which the state government has allocated $88 million, uncertainty in Washington notwithstanding.
“We need to be competitive, regardless of the changes in Washington,” he said last Friday. “We need to get to a single campus and we have to have single-patient rooms. Regardless of what happens in Washington, we’ll have to adapt, anyway. That process will only be enhanced by having this go forward.”
Scarpino said he keeps a close eye on developments in Washington. “Of course I have concerns,” he said. “Medicaid expansion could have a negative impact on fragile hospitals, of which we are one.”
The hospital system, part of Westchester Medical Health System, operates the former Kingston and Benedictine hospitals, in addition to Margaretville Hospital in Delaware County. It plans to transform its 300 beds, most in shared rooms, to 201 single-patient suites. The four-story Mary’s Avenue tower will include two floors for surgery. Construction of the tower will take place in the front of the building (Mary’s Avenue side) with an additional 70,000 square feet of interior renovation of the existing building.
The Broadway campus will be converted into what planners call “a medical village.”
Bids will be solicited under a project labor agreement (PLA) which requires prevailing wages and preference to women and minority labor and firms.
All told, the projects will cost $112 million. The gap between the state grant and budget will be bridged with borrowing and fundraising. The Benedictine Foundation has already pledged $2 million, Scarpino said.
Not involved in politics
Scarpino said he didn’t get involved with the complex politics of state and federal policy. “I’m not that smart,” he said. He said he was in regular contact with Congressman John Faso, who has also expressed serious concern about the impact of Medicaid revisions on small hospitals. “I find him well-grounded, very thoughtful and, quite honestly, an independent thinker,” he said of Faso.
The Kinderhook Republican, a former state Assembly leader, in office in Washington for less than three months, has been criticized for refusing to meet with constituents in “town hall” settings. Last week, Faso joined the (19-17) majority on the House Budget Committee to advance a Republican healthcare reform bill. Every Democratic committee member voted against it, plus three Republican members of the conservative Freedom Caucus. Had one majority vote gone the other way (including Faso’s) the measure would have failed.
Against Faso’s advice, the committee also voted to defund Planned Parenthood.
Congressman Sean Patrick Mahoney, Democrat of Cold Spring, in published reports called the bill “terrible” and “not worthy of being called a healthcare bill.”
On another health care matter, Scarpino said discussions are continuing between the Alliance and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The insurer cancelled services last year.