Tri-County Hospital in Gowanda, NY
Gowanda, NY - It looks like Gowanda will be getting a brand new hospital after all.
The future of Tri-County Hospital has been in limbo since it was destroyed in a devastating flood nearly eight months ago.
For those who live in and around the small village which straddles the Erie-Cattaraugus County line, this news was just what the doctor ordered.
"Indeed it is," said a smiling Jonathan Lawrence, President and CEO of Lake Erie Regional Health System, which runs Tri-County and two other small, regional hospitals.
Tri-County was condemned shortly after flood waters ravaged Gowanda and other nearby communities last August. The water, which ruined the hospital's electrical and HVAC systems, remained several feet deep for weeks within the building after environmental officials blocked attempts to pump it out because the water would have to be treated as medical waste. By the time things dried out, there were also structural concerns leading to the conclusion that the hospital would have to be entirely re-built, preferably away from the flood plain in which it lies.
Lawrence admits he'd been pretty discouraged with the response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA) to requests for funds to reconstruct.
"The discussion prior to now was that they would make funds available up to $14 million and we felt that was just a wasteful use of taxpayer funds," said Lawrence, insisting that amount would barely be enough to re-open the hospital in its current location.
"We'd still be here in this flood plain and the facility would still not be accessible in the event of (another) emergency," Lawrence said.
Lawrence credits US Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) with securing the funds to build a new hospital in a new location as was the desire of its operators. Schumer confirms he personally met with the director of FEMA to convince him of the need.
"I guess it worked because we're getting $18.5 million for Tri-County," Schumer told WGRZ-TV.
"Without Senator Schumer's personal intervention I do not believe this would have been brought about at all," said Lawrence
Lawrence says the money now being made available will allow for complete demolition of the old hospital and construction of a new one, which if all goes according to plan should be operating in less than two years.
"The facility will be smaller, but in terms of primary care and emergency services we think we'll have at least as much if not more (than before)," Lawrence said.
Lawrence also notes the importance a new hospital will hold for the region's economy, recalling that 200 jobs were lost when Tri-County was forced to close.
"Many of those people had to find jobs elsewhere. And while a number of them were able to shift to other parts of our health system, many took jobs at reduced pay and had to drive farther to work and had to adjust their lives accordingly," said Lawrence, who confirmed several former Tri-County workers remain unemployed to this day.
As for where the new hospital will be constructed Lawrence would only say that it would "certainly be somewhere in the Gowanda region if not within the village proper."
And while no particular site has been identified, Lawrence says it's a safe bet that the new location will be on higher ground.