Casper's proposed Summit Medical Center is a step closer to becoming reality.

After over 80 minutes of discussion, Casper City Council approved the subdivision plan for McMurry Business Park No. 6 on Tuesday.

For council, it was nothing more than a plat and sub-area plan approval for a new venture in the McMurry Business Park.

“When we consider a hospital, under our authority, it’s no different than when we’re considering a Menard’s or another hardware store,” Ward I councilman Keith Goodenough said.

But for Natrona County residents that packed the council chambers on Tuesday night, the approval meant something more. For supporters, it was the first step toward better overall healthcare for Casper residents.

For critics, it was the first step toward ruin.

The proposed medical complex would be located north of East Second Street between Venture Way and Park Ridge Drive. The site plan includes a 52,000-square-foot medical building, several office buildings and a restaurant.

Officials with Nueterra Holdings LLC, the Kansas-based healthcare facility management firm that will be tasked with running the privately-owned hospital once it opens, claim the 16-bed facility will bring roughly 100 jobs and more affordable healthcare to Casper.

Nueterra CEO Daniel Tasset refused to speak to the media on Tuesday. He did tell council, however, that several physicians asked representatives with his company to bring the new hospital to Casper.

Tasset told councilors that, after market research was conducted, he concluded that Casper would be a logical fit for Nueterra.

“There is a large out-migration, and the costs are higher than average, and there’s a large technology deficiency here,” Tasset said. “So, we saw it as an opportunity to bring value to the community, and the physicians I’ve talked to felt the same way.”

A Casper-based Summit Medical Center representative told councilors that 24 doctors have an ownership stake in the proposed facility.

Council voted 6-0 in favor of the site plan. Ward I’s Daniel Sandoval, Ward II’s Paul Meyer and Ward III’s Paul Bertoglio recused themselves from voting.

Casper mayor Kenyne Schlager said, regardless of council’s opinion on the facility or Nueterra, the body had to approve the plat and sub-area plan. Schlager said litigation against the city could have been on the horizon if councilors voted the plan down.

“When the McMurry Business Park was created, they basically put in (planned unit development) guidelines,” Schlager said. “(The hospital complex) fits very well within the guidelines that were established in this PUD.”

According to the proposal, Summit Medical Center would be located in a portion of the McMurry Business Park that permits, among other commercial uses, the construction of offices, hospitals, medical and dental clinics, medical and dental laboratories and restaurants.

Schlager said a prior council approved the McMurry Business Park's PUD guidelines in July 2005.

Nueterra’s plan has drawn scorn from the Natrona County Board of County Commissioners and future competitor Wyoming Medical Center. Both groups say a third hospital would drive up healthcare costs by injecting more underutilized beds into the region.

“Don’t presume this is just an issue about a plat,” county commission chairperson Bill McDowell told councilors prior to Tuesday’s vote.

McDowell said the ramifications of council's decision wouldn’t be seen until several years passed. Commissioners also warned council that the county could be on the hook for Wyoming Medical Center’s yearly $37 million indigent care bill if revenue at the medical center were to dwindle.

“Our total budget is $50 million,” Natrona County commissioner Rob Hendry told councilors. “That’s going to affect every single citizen in Natrona County.”

Wyoming Medical Center claims Nueterra’s Casper hospital is only going to accept insured patients, leaving WMC with the underinsured and uninsured.

Vickie Diamond, Wyoming Medical Center’s president and CEO, told commissioners in July that, if her hospital were to see a steep drop-off in the number of its insured customers, it would likely not be able to fund its Level II trauma center operations.

Councilors must approve the ordinance two more times before the new subdivision can be created.

Nueterra officials on Tuesday would not announce when construction would begin on the new hospital.

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