(Riverton, Wyo.) – Over 50 veterans and community leaders filled the Riverton City Council Chambers Tuesday afternoon extolling the virtues of the Rendezvous City as the best location for a State Veterans Skilled Nursing facility. Riverton is one of eight communities, which also includes Lander, seeking to land the state facility. A similar meeting will be held at 6:30 tonight at Lander City Hall.
A team of architects and officials from the Wyoming Veterans Commission, the Wyoming Department of Health and the state’s Construction Department have been criss-crossing the state conducting town hall meetings and collecting data on each of the communities. From an original group of 13 candidate communities, now whittled down to eight, only three will be designated as finalists. The data on the finalist cities will be presented to the Wyoming State Building Commission comprised of the state’s five top elected officials and three interim legislative committees where the final decision on where to locate the facility will be made.
“This facility will provide Veterans with skilled nursing benefits across multiple levels of need, it will be open to all Vets,” said Steve Kravitsky, director of the Veteran’s Commission. “We have 48,000 Veterans in the state, and 2,852 in Fremont County.”
Most of the Veterans who spoke said they would prefer a central location, either Riverton or Lander, to having to drive to Veterans Administration facilities in Sheridan, Cheyenne or beyond.
Kravitsky repeatedly told the crowd that even though the VA would be funding 65 percent of the state facility, it would be the state’s and operated by the state, not the VA.
Among those giving testimony was Scotty Ratliff, who mentioned that such a facility would be important to the Wind River Reservation. “There is no population with a higher participation in the military than Natives,” he said. “Having access to their families is important.”
Community Entry Services Executive Director Shawn Griffin called attention to soft issues that the team may overlook when gathering data. He said the Fremont County Community “is very inclusive and supportive by providing employment, support, volunteerism and it feels good about what we do.” He noted he already serves some Veterans.
Anthony Robbins, director of the Wind River Health Care and Rehabilitation facility in Riverton, said he was worried about having enough Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) if another facility would enter the market. In response later in the meeting, the principal of MOA Architecture, Chet Lockard, said the timeline for the facility would have an opening in 2023, “and we can train a workforce before it opens.” Additionally, Cathy Wells, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Central Wyoming College noted that expanded CNA certification classes will begin this fall at the Riverton college with a new faculty member and she noted that the college’s nursing program produces nurses who score in the top one percent among all Associates and Bachelor degree nursing students. “Our graduates are very competent.”
Real Estate Developer Richard Emond promoted the former Kmart store on North Federal as a potential location, but MOA’s Joseph Palmer said the city needs to present a site “that is the best possible site for our veterans.” Already the city has proposed two sites, one at West Sunset and Major Avenue and one just off Gasser Road and College Hill Drive. The city has until Friday to suggest its best site.
Among others who spoke included the current and prior two mayors of Riverton, Lars Baker, Dennis Tippets and Ron Warpness, plus State Representative David Miller, County Commission Chairman Travis Becker, and Riverton city councilor Mike Bailey. IDEA, Inc.’s Alan Moore and Kevin Kershisnik also spoke in favor of Riverton’s application. In attendance but not speaking was St.Rep. Lloyd Larsen of Lander and Lander Assistant Mayor Rajean Strube Fossen.
Details of the site selection study can be found here.