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One Hospital = Economic Development Fail

By Cassandra Harris-Lockwood

Cassandra Harris-Lockwood

The March edition of the Utica Phoenix carried a story entitled “A History of Hospitals in Utica.” It explained in a very historically accurate manner, the development of Utica’s hospitals.

It was recently explained to me by a longtime businessman about how St. Luke’s was built, back in the day. This friend is quite successful as his family has been for several generations. Sometimes it takes an on the ground historical perspective to really get a handle on what’s going on.

This local business icon referenced speaking to a local Indian doctor who once worked locally in the MVHS system. He decided to move his family with two young children out West to another city where there were four different hospitals to choose from where he “wouldn’t have to work so hard and such long hours.”

My friend went on to explain that when the Episcopals decided to move their Whitesboro Street hospital location for a more easily accessible location at Burrstone and Champlain Ave., they approached the many local businesses and corporations for their help. General Electric, Chicago Pneumatic, Duxback, Utica Cutlery and many other corporations and companies wrote generous 6 and 7 figure checks to aid in the development fund the new hospital.

The many Labor Unions connected with these corporations followed suit. There are signs and plaques hanging on the walls yet today claiming the support of the Unions.

I was reminded that all of these above-mentioned corporations and more had thousands of employees all of whom had health insurance which paid full freight for hospitalizations and healthcare. That was nearly 60 years ago.

Today we are faced with a much less robust, even depressed business and economic picture. It is conservatively estimated that 40% of the city’s population lives in poverty and is on Medicaid, Medicare or SSI. Reimbursements Medicaid are slow and are incomplete.
The school system is among the 5th poorest in the state.Since the 70’s local hospitals and medical care have suffered. They have been in a downsizing and consolidation mode for decades. And the Mohawk Valley continues to be faced with a languishing economy.
The decade’s long efforts of MoVa EDGE, Oneida County, the REDC and now the Governor’s own Ft. Schuyler Management Company has all failed to attract and develop sufficient business to advance this community. Their failures have now come to roost in Utica’s downtown in the form of their intention to build the area’s newest hospital there.
And now MVHS intends to reduce the healthcare system to a singular entity thereby submitting to the notion that there is no future for expansion, no place for growth.
Once they dragged Sr. Rose Vincent and Sr. Johanna out of their convent residence in their nightgowns kicking and screaming, they have had their way with St. E’s. This formerly Catholic hospital is slated for unknown future. And there’s plenty of speculation on the St. Luke’s campus.

Numerous community participation endeavors over the years, from the thoroughly inclusive Breakthrough Central NY in 2004, the Gateway Plan in 2005 to the energizing eco-efforts of Rust to Green, to the devoted and hard-working efforts and input of hundreds of business and community professionals of the Masterplan, for which nearly half a million dollars was spent, none of these outpourings of civic engagement made any mention of bulldozing 25 acres of downtown to erect a hospital.

At one time the Community Foundation sponsored a speaker’s series. It was intended to prepare our community for the wonders of Nano coming to town. Richard Florida, spoke of the Creative Class, Dan Heath spoke of engagement and change, Geoffrey Canada the importance of education and now Senator Cory Booker. The Community Foundation spent hundreds of thousands of dollars booking these speakers.

I recall one of the above-mentioned speakers had driven a through the now infamous Lafayette-Columbia corridor exclaiming, “Once the Nano center is in place you’ll have other ancillary companies coming to town to be near it. One will buy up some of that vacant real estate, like that Seakan building, throw $300,000 at it and in no time you’ll have hundreds of latte-sipping techies and millennials walking their little dogs on leashes as they go to work every day in your downtown.”

Today, instead of demanding better performance from those empowered, paid and entrusted with the task of bringing industry to our region, the Community Foundation has thrown in with this diminished version of who we can be as a region. Instead of supporting the concerted efforts of this community’s most dedicated sons and daughters they have pledged to ignore the peoples’ interest. Sadly, the Community Foundation has decided to undermine the best case scenario for Utica by providing MVHS with a full-time project coordinator to destroy the same downtown they once so widely and publicly promoted.
Local politicians continue to throw in with these unsuccessful economic developments efforts to the point where they intend to cram a new hospital down the throats of the people.

When will they come to their senses? When will they stop this ignoble, disgraceful effort? What will it take? Why have they chosen to reduce the tax base; fight with property owners, destroy the historic businesses and pathways and connectivity of the city? Why don’t they build where they already own?

These and other questions have yet to be satisfied. The lies and misinformation have abounded. Doctors, nurses and medical professionals across the region disagree with the intended downtown hospital plan. Perra and Scholefield are presiding over a disgruntled workforce who don’t like and truly have no use for them.

Currently, there are open houses scheduled for the public to become familiar with the actual loses at hand. The Compassion Coalition is scheduled for April 12, The Turning Point Church, Wilcor International, and other locations will be announced. And Enterprise Car Rental is poised for a grand opening, within the footprint and in total defiance of the elected leaders, turned rulers who continue to force this hospital development upon the people.

The public is invited and encouraged to attend these open houses and openings in an effort to demonstrate that this community should, deserves to and intends to remain whole.


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