By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
The largest U.S. Department of Agriculture loan ever made in Wyoming has moved Fremont County $37 million closer to a new hospital.
The Riverton Medical District, a nonprofit group formed in 2019 by community members, announced Monday that the USDA has awarded a $37 million low-interest loan toward the building of a new hospital north of Riverton.
The loan, which leaves the project just $10 million short of full funding, is the largest USDA loan ever provided in Wyoming, said Corte McGuffey, an RMD board member.
The new hospital will compete with SageWest Health Care in Riverton, an idea conceived in 2018.
“In a few months it will be four years since my former freshman P.E. teacher Janis Bradley came up with the crazy idea to do something about our hospital situation,” McGuffey said during a news conference Monday. “She called the meeting with a group of local leaders.”
Initially, the activists wanted to remedy what they saw as the failings of SageWest, including a high rate of patients being flown out of Riverton for treatment, the 2016 closure of the Riverton obstetrics ward, the lack of ability to respond to burns and other issues.
The obstetrics ward remains closed. Lander SageWest Health Care retained its obstetrics ward.
“Back then the goal was not to build a new hospital,” said McGuffey. “It was to save our hospital. But meeting after meeting – in those early days – it became evident that our health care situation would not improve unless a different course was taken.
“That’s when our cowboy ethic took over,” he continued. “We drew the line, and the mission changed to ‘Let’s build a new hospital.’”
Riverton City Council Member Kristy Salisbury said in a later phone call that the RMD has identified other possible sources for the remaining $10 million.
SageWest Health Care countered in an email Monday to Cowboy State Daily that the existing hospital is “committed to ensuring that the residents of Fremont County have access to high-quality, full-service hospital care close to home,” and that SageWest is “proud of our dedicated teams and all that they do to meet the healthcare needs of Fremont County at both our Riverton and Lander campuses.”
Plans call for the new hospital to be built on 12 acres of land, four of which were donated by the Eastern Shoshone Tribe on its 300-acre parcel north of Riverton known as the Shoshone Business Park.
The acreage when pledged was worth about $1 million and comprised a significant portion of the equity required to secure the USDA loan.
Riverton Medical District is purchasing the other 8 acres from the tribe for $2 million.
Competition The ‘American Way’
The new hospital could improve services and prices by competing with the existing facility, according to John St. Clair, chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.
“It’s going to provide much-needed medical services, for not only Riverton, but the entire community,” he said. “But beyond that, it will provide a level of competition to the services that currently exist.
“Competition,” St. Clair continued, “will hopefully result in better prices for our people to pay for those services. We know that competition is the basis for our economy – and more than that, it’s the American way.”
Many Eastern Shoshone Tribal members live near Riverton on the Wind River Indian Reservation, along with members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe.
Billings Medical Clinic
RMD last year signed a letter of intent to affiliate with the Billings Medical Clinic.
Dr. Scott Ellner, Billings Medical Clinic CEO, told the crowd Monday that his organization emphasizes locally-controlled healthcare, and intends to keep medical decision-making in local hands.