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$12.6 Million in Recovery Funds awarded for new hospital


By Greg Scellin, Signal Editor

It’s official.

The waiting game is over.

USDA Rural Development announced late last week that the Fillmore County Hospital (FCH) has been selected to receive a low-interest loan through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Recovery funds will support a $12.6 million USDA Rural Development loan to construct a completely new replacement hospital in Geneva. The remaining funding for the project (approximately 30 percent) will be generated from General Obligation Bonds.

Voters passed the proposition to build a new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) hospital in the Fillmore County seat by a 3-to-1 margin on August 10. The actual ballot language stated that property owners in the county would be willing to pay for the new hospital with property-tax revenue if FCH was unable to generate enough income to make loan payments in the future.

While making presentations prior to the election, FCH Administrator Paul Utemark said the ability to obtain stimulus funding through the USDA was a key component in making the project feasible. With the deadline for the program rapidly approaching, Utemark, staff and the FCH Governing Board anxiously awaited the official announcement.

“All along, we received strong indications that our project was going to be a part of the package,” Utemark said. “Then, the water, library projects were announced and no hospitals. In the end, we’re very thankful that we got approved. There were a lot of very worthwhile projects that didn’t receive funding.”

Now, things can move from potential and proposed to construction.

Utemark said staff, the FCH Governing Board and county officials will now have to complete a multi-layered series of applications and paperwork to move the project along. He said the Fillmore County Board will be approving several applications at a special meeting this Thursday morning and will also be holding a Public Hearing on Friday, October 15, to acquire the property the new hospital will be located on as required by state statutes. The new hospital will be located just northwest of the intersection of F Street and the US Highway 81 Bypass.

“Though we wanted to, we couldn’t go any faster than we did with not receiving the official word until late last Wednesday,” Utemark said.

The FCH administrator said a potential ground-breaking ceremony for the project could happen on Monday, October 18. The new hospital’s general contractor has also advertised for dirt-work bids for the project. A rush to get dirt moved and the site ready for construction before winter conditions set in would speed up the project considerably by allowing construction workers to operate inside during the winter months.

“I’m just sick every day that’s sunny and nice and we can’t get any dirt work done,” Utemark said. “But, we have to do things right. But, then again, I would also like to get things rolling along, too.”

The FCH announcement was part of a large stimulus-package announcement. The Rock County Hospital also received funds in Nebraska.

“We are pleased that Rural Development in Nebraska can assist these hospitals with their needs,” said USDA Rural Development Nebraska State Director Maxine Moul. “The funds will help bring enhanced services to patients.”

Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson also helped welcome the announcement of these funds going to the Cornhusker State.

“These recovery funds will help build and maintain rural hospitals in Rock and Fillmore counties,” Nelson said. “These Recovery Act investments will generate economic activity today and build important infrastructure for tomorrow. Good quality medical care should never be too far away. Investing in rural hospitals ensures vital health services are accessible to more Nebraskans.”