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MVHS CEO Perra discusses downtown-hospital project

Scott Perra, president and CEO of Mohawk Valley Health System in Utica, says the downtown-hospital project will help the organization with retaining and recruiting medical professionals. He spoke with CNYBJ in a Sept. 25 interview at its office in Syracuse. (ERIC REINHARDT / BJNN)

UTICA, N.Y. — The upcoming downtown Utica hospital for Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) will be taking “what are now very scarce but very robust health-care resources” and bringing them together into one system and a brand new facility.

That’s according to Scott Perra, president and CEO of MVHS, who spoke in an interview at the BJNN Syracuse office on Sept. 25.

MVHS is an affiliation of Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare and St. Elizabeth Medical Center, both of Utica. The two organizations teamed up in March 2014.

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The project will be designed for health-care “efficiency” from a patient, staff, and medical-staff perspective.

“We think it’s going to be a platform that allows us to then grow the entire service portfolio of what we offer in that region,” says Perra.

He noted that Masonic Medical Research Laboratory of Utica, which Perra described as a “world-renowned” cardiac-research facility, wants to have a satellite laboratory located in the new downtown Utica facility “because they know all the service is going to be located in one building.”

Perra also contends that a new downtown hospital will help the organization retain staff and recruit additional employees.

“Who wouldn’t want to work in a brand-new facility designed around the patient and designed around the staff. We think it’s going to help in all sorts of different ways from that perspective,” Perra contends.

Property acquisition

MVHS continues working to acquire the properties in the hospital-project footprint, so the effort can move forward.

“The process … has gone slower than I had anticipated it would go. Three years ago, [if you would have asked] me how long this would take, I wouldn’t have thought it would go this long,” Perra told BJNN.

Of the 35 property owners representing 72 parcels of land in the downtown project footprint, 20 property owners have completed or are in the process of completing a signed, purchase-option agreement with MVHS. Nine property owners are in active negotiation with MVHS and BSK, and six property owners have not responded or have indicated they are not interested in any type of agreement.

“The remainder … will have to go to eminent domain, ultimately, if we can’t work out a deal with them,” Perra noted.

The properties do not include the parcels that the City of Utica owns.

MVHS and Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC (BSK), the law firm handling the property acquisition process, continue to work with the property owners to finalize the agreements.

Loan secured

MVHS already has a $300 million grant for its downtown-hospital project, and now it has the additional financing it needs as well.

The health-care system on Sept. 27 announced it has secured a loan to help fund its estimated $480 million project to build a new 373-bed, 672,000-square-foot health-care campus in downtown Utica.

New York State in 2017 committed to offering a $300 million grant for the effort but MVHS needed to raise the remaining $180 million itself through a combination of its own capital, outside financing, and fundraising efforts.

The loan is financed through London, England–based Barclays, a multinational investment bank and financial-services company. MVHS didn’t disclose the amount of the loan.

“We are extremely pleased to finalize this important part of the project,” Perra said in a news release announcing the loan. “Securing this financing not only gives us the financial security to complete this transformational project in downtown Utica, but it satisfies one of the CON [certificate of need] contingencies which is vital to moving the project forward.”

Meeting a requirement

Closing on the financing satisfies one of the contingencies that the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) placed on its April 2018 approval of MVHS’s certificate of need for the hospital. The contingencies for approval from the NYSDOH Public Health and Health Planning Council are “common for a project of this magnitude,” MVHS said.

MVHS recently signed the phase I grants contract with NYSDOH, which allows the health-care system to begin utilizing a portion of the $300 million state grant. With the contract, MVHS can begin submitting reimbursement requests for expenses related to the new hospital that have already been incurred.

MVHS has already spent nearly $8 million on the project in areas such as building design and consultant fees, per its news release.

#NoHospitalDowntown

The group calling itself “#NoHospitalDowntown” is opposed to the downtown Utica location for the hospital project.

On its website, www.nohospitaldowntown.com, the group includes a section with at least 30 reasons why it doesn’t like the downtown area for the hospital project.

Jim Brock and Brett Truett are the group’s co-founders.

When asked for a reaction to the group’s vocal opposition to the project, Perra told BJNN that “early on,” MVHS knew that “something this large and this impactful” for the region would have people who support the effort and people who are against it.

“Unfortunately, there are some people that are against it but the vast majority of the population’s for it. They’re entitled to their own opinion,” says Perra.

#NoHospitalDowntown on Oct. 10 held a press conference in which Brock and Truett announced a $100,000 pledge for court actions, and both resident and taxpayer education, according to a news advisory issued Oct. 9.

In addition, the group also released its #NoHospitalDowntown voter guide, per the news advisory.

The group held its announcement at 10-12 Liberty St. in Bagg’s Square district of downtown Utica.

Contact Reinhardt at ereinhardt@cnybj.com

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