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by Joseph Bottini

I finally get it. Thanks to all of the folks who are on the opposite side of the issue than I, but willing to talk with me and exchange views, it is all very clear: they have a locked opinion, regardless of facts and figures to the contrary. They are blinded – due to a “Utica/fix downtown” syndrome that is pervasive among so many locals.

Many of Utica’s neighborhoods need upgrading – can we build a new hospital in each to fix the problems? We must take each section and address its needs with creative planning, i.e bonds, grants, state, federal and county help, and private entrepreneurship incentives, as was done in the Bagg Square Corridor over the past few years.

The move to build a “state-of-the-art” hospital downtown has little to do with quality medical care. It has little to do with what is best in providing good medical-healthcare for Oneida County citizens. After talking with a number of folks who are for the downtown location, I gleaned the following reason for their position, at least by those who were willing to admit the genesis of their position.

It varied, depending on whom I was engaged in discussion, but the underlying reason for their opinion was the same: “It will help fix downtown Utica.”
Each person was adamant about the need for a fix, and the best solution for “fixing” downtown’s Columbia-Lafayette neighborhood.

‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘Now I’m getting somewhere.’

Initially, I couldn’t understand how medical professionals (dedicated to providing the best possible medical treatments) and the government fathers (dedicated to building a vibrant community) could be so ‘lacking’ in their decision-making. It is not about what is best for healthcare or taxpayer indebtedness. It is about “fixing downtown!” Aha, the proverbial light bulb went on!

So, as the cost of the project increases and the quality and size of the project continues to decrease, we will be getting less of a healthcare facility than we otherwise would’ve. Based on what we now know – or are led to believe – especially with the ‘sleight of hand’ style slow leak of information we’ve received- this could be a worst-case scenario.

For instance – no one seems to know what to do with the potential “White Elephants” left behind (St. Elizabeth and St. Luke’s properties). Five years after beginning the project, Mohawk Valley Healthcare System (MVHS) is just getting around to asking for ideas on what to do with those properties. This should have been an ongoing concern right away, along with the hospital planning. OR – it is another attempt at making local folks think they are involved in the overall decision-making process. The way things have gone the past four to five years belies this possibility:

– It has been shared that there will be fewer medical-surgical beds in this new hospital than were originally planned.

– There will be fewer emergency ports of entry, which could result in ambulances being parked in the street when the E.R. is busy.

– Snow and ice are real factors in upstate New York.

– There will be no dedicated pediatrics department. And we do not know about a dedicated birthing center either.

What is going to happen with hospital policies that differ with those of the new board? Will abortions become the standard fare instead of the St. Elizabeth policy now in vogue?

There will be no basement to the building; it will be set on a concrete slab like a modular home. Without a basement foundation, the entire building is downgraded in strength-quality. The reason behind this? It will be located on a flood plain area. Does that still sound “state-of-the-art”?

Without storage, maintenance facilities and a laundry or housekeeping department in the missing basement, it will become necessary for part of the hospital to dedicate itself to these services. Will this force more patients on gurneys, waiting in the halls for medical care?
Not to mention the list of things that take money away from the pool of funds that are available:

– The cost of evaluating properties.

– The cost of purchasing properties (with inflated bribes to get owners to capitulate) and the subsequent cost of moving expenses.

– The cost of asbestos abatement

– The cost of demolishing all these buildings/structures

– And the cost of infrastructure upgrades.

The cost of the project has risen to 548 million, and (I bet) it will increase with in-process change orders (because it always does). Still, more questions arise:

What’s the cost of recreating the power plant already in place on Chaplin Ave?

What’s the cost of recreating the heliport already in place on Chaplin Ave?

The 300 million dollar contribution from the state doesn’t seem so large when you consider that it is about half of what will be needed to finish the project, which has yet to include a parking garage. Taxpayers will be responsible for the garage, and a medical office building, while the MVHS folks keep hoping that someone will privately finance that part of the whole deal. If you offer tax incentives, the taxpayers will still be responsible.

Then there is the issue of the police campus. A maintenance garage, which still has a mortgage on it, will have to be demolished to build the campus. The property will have to be bought and a new maintenance building will have to be built to replace the one being demolished. With some creative planning (bonds, grants, state and federal help) it appears that the historic building, renovated expanded, could remain. It certainly appears that all the money that has or will be spent on marketing/promoting the new hospital (including the salary of a “hired gun” from MT) could be better spent on the hospital itself.

Two years ago, Mike Bosak of the Landmarks Society gave an enumerated list of over twenty valid reasons why building the proposed new hospital downtown in the CoLa district was not a good idea. Prudence and common sense would have stopped this “hell-bent-for-election” drive from going down the wrong path if it were not for the decision being made in Albany – before anyone locally had a chance to properly evaluate its course. Following that decree, local government leaders imagined a shiny new building in a blighted district, an area which is, admittedly, in need of help. It’s never too late to do the right thing! If a legacy of government service interests you, this would enshrine you in the annals of the Utica-Oneida County government for generations yet unborn. If enough folks stop with this ‘us v. them’ mentality (Utica v. New Hartford) and do what is best for Oneida County, one of the most crucial decisions in sixty years could be made correctly.

Cooperation among communities is exampled in our past history. When plans for a military hospital was in need of space, Utica annexed a portion of New Hartford in order to comply with the requirements of the federal government. Thus, Rhoads Hospital, dedicated to wounded veterans of WWII, was constructed in our county.

When Utica was in need of expansion because the Erie Canal made Utica the new hub of community growth, eclipsing New Hartford, New Hartford agreed to allow Utica to annex a large section (then known as “No Man’s Land”) that is now known as South Utica. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to exercise the same magnanimous posture by applying it to solve today’s concerns?

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