By Mark Waite
Nye County commissioners voted 3-1 Tuesday to support a federal program touted as a win-win for the Tonopah community, which could finance a construction project for Nye Regional Medical Center.
Commissioner Dan Schinhofen cast the sole vote against the Rural Medical Facility Investment and Improvement Act, calling it another government program.
J.P. Smith gave the presentation in place of former Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren, chairman of the board of The LIfeCare Group. Smith said he just met with Dr. Vincent Scoccia, director of Nye Regional Medical Center, who endorsed the bill, which would revise the IRS code to temporarily reduce taxes for the development of new or replaced antiquated hospitals with modern technology and health care in federally designated rural communities. There were rumors last summer Nye Regional was on the verge of closing its doors.
Smith said the act provides a third source of funding other than the U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development HUD which requires matching funds.
Smith explained: “It goes ahead and allows private investment to go ahead and obtain private funding for these facilities and in return they go ahead and get tax free interest on the project as well as tax credits. Should the project in the end not support itself, the developers will be required to lower the price to a financially feasible amount for the community to carry. At that point they would receive tax credits in lieu of that discount.”
The community will receive a medical facility that’s a hybrid, Smith said, in addition to a hospital it will provide other services to make it profitable. He mentioned possibly a retirement community, assisted living community or Alzheimer’s facility; Commissioner Joni Eastley said Nye County already deeded property on Main Street in Tonopah to Nye Regional Medical Center for that purpose.
“As you probably are aware, Congress has their scissors out. They’re looking at cutting anything and everything that moves. Medicare and hospital care, especially in the rural areas, is in deep danger at this point. If this goes ahead it provides another funding option that Dr. Scoccia is going to seriously consider to allow a new facility to be built here within the next two years,” Smith said.
The program isn’t available in other communities where a recipient may be in competition with other health care facilities, like Pahrump, he said.
Smith repeatedly told questioning commissioners the program would be operated with private money; Nye County wouldn’t obligate itself to funding.
“Because this is being done by a private developer, it pays its fair share of any costs and impacts on the community with the end result it gets turned over to a non-profit to run it. It’s run by an elected board in the community and it gets sold back to the community at cost. It’s locally owned, controlled and viable,” Smith said. “This is completely private institutionally funded. There’s no government funds requested. There’s none required.”
There will be a cost to the federal government, in interest that would normally be taxed, but there is an offset for jobs created, Smith said. He said the actual cost to the federal government nationwide is estimated at $5.2 billion, but offsets equal $15 billion.
“What this does it takes the several trillion dollars sitting in banks and treasury bonds and actually puts them to work creating jobs. Nationwide we’re looking at creating 250,000 jobs. During this particular project here you’d have over 5,000 craftsmen at one time or another working on this facility and because of the remoteness, they’re going to be staying in your hotels, eating in your restaurants, fighting in your bars,” Smith said.
He said Nye County could realize $15 million to $20 million in tax revenues during the five-year period a construction project would be in private hands.
But Schinhofen said the federal government will be spending money it doesn’t have. He claimed there hasn’t been a dire need shown for the program.
“I know that we did deed that property for that; there’s a couple of assisted living centers down here that have been on the books, people have been trying to build. When is it going to stop?” Schinhofen asked by video conference from Pahrump.
“There’s always another need, there’s always another want. So there’s another program that’s going through Congress to invest more of our money. I know if you do the math we will be going to spend $5 billion but we might save $15 billion. These guys they haven’t given us a budget for three years, they haven’t balanced anything forever and I am not going to support another spending bill and that’s what investment means with this government,” he said.
Eastley asked if the Tonopah hospital would be able to go forward with any expansion or rebuilding plans if the commission didn’t support the bill.
“I couldn’t go ahead and say that, it would make it extremely difficult. There is no money to provide for the matching funds for these other agencies, HUD and USDA,” Smith said.
Nye County Commissioner Gary Hollis told Schinhofen, “I know that you weren’t here when Nye County ran the hospital there and I’m sure that you can’t remember how much money the county sunk into Nye Regional. I don’t want to see that come back and that’s the reason why I voted for it. That hospital is essential to be located where it is.”