The Wyoming Senate voted on third reading Thursday to locate the proposed veterans skilled nursing facility in Buffalo despite strong arguments in favor of Casper, a senator from Casper said.

However, the Buffalo location is not a done deal, because the U.S. Veterans Administration has the final say whether the project will go forward, Sen. Jim Anderson said.

The Senate voted 24-6 on House Bill 82 to put the approximately $23 million, 36-bed facility in Buffalo despite arguments from health care professionals in Casper and Buffalo saying Casper has the largest hospital in the state and the nurses and other personnel who could staff it.

HB 82 recommended Buffalo as the location.

Last week, the Senate Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Committee reversed that and voted to put it in Casper before sending it to the full Senate.

Monday, the Senate overrode the committee's decision and again made Buffalo the location.

Committee Chairman Sen. Michael Von Flatern said Tuesday the Casper location was logical and best for the veterans, but parochialism held sway. "It's the 'small town versus the large town,'" Von Flatern said.

House Bill 82 now goes to Governor Mark Gordon, who is from Buffalo, who probably will sign it into law, Anderson said.

That doesn't end the matter, because the Veterans Administration could kill the project, he said.

Anderson said the VA will begin in April, and finished in June 2020, what is called a Level 3 study to examine the details of the site, Anderson said. The Level 2 study released last fall identified Casper, Buffalo and Sheridan as the best possible locations.

It boils down to money, which boils down to Buffalo being able to have a full facility.

The loan from the state's share of the project, about $9 million, must be repaid by fees from the patients, and those fees are from the VA for each patient in the facility, Anderson said.

"If you're going to repay the loan, you're going to have to have a full skilled nursing facility," he said. "If you have 36 beds you need 36 people in it."

The Level 3 study studies how many beds a community can support, Anderson said. "If it's less that thirty-six, they may not be able to accommodate the loan, and pay the loan back."

If Buffalo cannot support a full facility, and fails to pay the loan back, the Veterans Administration will want its money back, he said.

"So it could cost the state the entire amount of money if the Buffalo facility fails," Anderson said.

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