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County OK’s $950k for Tonopah hospital tear down

After many years of financial strife, in 2015 the Nye Regional Medical Center in Tonopah officially shut its doors to the public, leaving the community and surrounding areas hours away from the nearest hospital. Although some medical services have since returned, community members all agree it is not enough and the Northern Nye County Hospital District has been doing all it can to remedy the problem.

Northern Nye County Hospital District Chair Donald Kaminski went before the Nye County Commission this month, seeking their approval for the district to move forward with securing a loan to fund one major hurdle for bringing in new services, the continued existence of the old Nye Regional Medical Center. Once the antiquated, contaminated facility is removed, the hospital district would be able to apply for a variety of available grants that could then be used to replace the old center with a brand new Critical Access Hospital.

Because the Nye Regional Medical Center is contaminated with both asbestos and petroleum, the demolition of the facility is an eligible activity under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund program. Kaminski was requesting the commission’s approval for an $800,000 medium-term loan, funding for which has already been awarded to Nye County by the EPA. In addition, the hospital district was asking for $150,000 in grant funds from the same program, which would require a $150,000 in-kind match from the hospital district.

“Some of you may not know that Nye County was awarded two separate EPA Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund grants,” Nye County Contracts and Grants Manager Stephani Elliott explained for the board during its Feb. 7 meeting.

She said the county had already utilized $400,000 of that funding to perform work on the Nye County Public Works Fixed Base Operations Building in Tonopah as well as to remove the two old public works buildings, whose land is now vacant. Public works had then repaid the revolving loan fund back to the county, which can now reuse that funding for another purpose.

“Think of it as a credit card or a revolving line of credit for EPA clean-up funds,” she remarked.

If the county were to use $800,000 of its available revolving loan funds for the purpose of demolishing the old Nye Regional Medical Center, and those funds were then paid back, the county would once again be able to use that same $800,000, plus the interest paid previously by public works and that would be paid by the hospital district, for future Brownfield clean-up projects.

Eileen Christensen of BEC Environmental emphasized this point, telling the board, “If this grant is not used, it goes back to the federal government…. However, if you loan the money to the hospital district or to other county entities and it’s repaid, all of the money stays with the county.”

Commissioner Frank Carbone, who spent several years on the board previously in addition to his current term, expressed some hesitation about the proposal. As he is familiar with the hospital’s history, he wanted to be assured that the district would indeed be able to pay back this particular loan.

“We made a loan to the hospital district once before, for $2.5 million. And that was supposed to be paid back as well,” Carbone asserted. “That hasn’t happened… I’m just concerned that everything happens correctly and that things are going to get paid back.”

Nye County Manager Tim Sutton interjected that the $2.5 million loan had actually been made to the Nye Regional Medical Center itself, rather than the hospital district. In either case, based on the annual income received from the hospital district’s taxing area, weighted against the district’s current obligations, Elliott said the district would be able to handle the annual loan payments. She noted that the final decision on that matter, however, would be made by the Nevada Department of Taxation.

“I’m glad we’re having this conversation because we want them to succeed. And if they have the ability to rework this and build a hospital in the future for Tonopah, that would be amazing,” Nye County Commissioner Debra Strickland remarked.

Before the discussion came to a close, commission chair Bruce Jabbour took a moment to touch on one of the reasons the hospital district’s request was so important.

“Correct me if I am wrong,” Jabbour stated. “But in order to receive additional grants in the future, for a hospital, for medical facilities, this contaminated building needs to go away, needs to be removed in its entirety. Otherwise, we are in jeopardy of losing additional grants.”

Kaminski confirmed that this was indeed the case. “We have several (funding) sources we can look at but like chairman Jabbour said, in order for us to be eligible for other grants, we have to show we have a place to put up a new Critical Access Hospital, which currently we don’t have. And we lost some funding last year because of that.”

Strickland made the motion to approve the $800,000 loan request contingent upon Nevada Department of Taxation approval, as well as the $150,000 grant request from the EPA Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund program. Cox offered a second and the motion passed with all in favor.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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