The debate in the Wyoming Senate over whether the $23 million veteran's skilled nursing facility should be located in Buffalo or Casper boils down to a municipal David vs. Goliath dispute regardless of an adequate health care labor force, a senator from Gillette said Tuesday.

"The only thing is, 'keep the small town alive,'" Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) said.

"It's the 'small town versus the large town,'" said Von Flatern, chairman of the Senate Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Committee, which heard testimony last week from officials, veterans, health care providers and others.

Health care professionals in Buffalo have testified that that the hospital and two nursing homes in the city already have a difficult time keeping nurses, and the skilled nursing facility would make the situation worse.

Casper, on the other hand, is a hub for health care including the Wyoming Medical Center, which would be nine blocks north of the proposed 36-bed facility at 12th and Conwell streets.

After this testimony about House Bill 82, Von Flatern said he'll vote to put the facility in Casper.

Legislative Service Office
Sen. Michael Von Flatern. Legislative Service Office

"There's nothing that said you should put it in Buffalo other than very determined people and it's small town vs. large town," he said.

In October, a Wyoming Department of Health report identified Casper, Buffalo and Sheridan as the best locations for veterans to have access to a subsidized long-term care benefit that they cannot receive today.

Casper tentatively was chosen as the location, but the House amended HB 82 to place it in Buffalo, the location of the Veterans' Home, at the last minute before sending it to the Senate.

After the testimony last week, the Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Committee recommended changing the location from Buffalo to Casper.

But during the first reading in the Senate on Monday, senators debated then defeated a motion 21-8 with one excused to restore the location to Casper, Von Flatern said.

Tuesday, he laid the bill back for its second reading Wednesday, he said.

The technical reason has to do with whether Buffalo can pay back a 15-year 2 percent loan authorized by the state construction department to spend up to $9 million in federal funds deposited in the veterans' skilled nursing facility special revenue account, which is part of HB 82.

The ability to pay the loan depends on how many veterans would use the facility, and the resulting Veterans' Administration per diem payment for each of them, Von Flatern said.

The bill gives the director of the Wyoming Department of Health the authority to end the project, he said.

"Without the per diem from the Veterans' Administration, which means we wouldn't pay the loan back, would the facility still be there, and it almost would be pulled," Von Flatern said.

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