Casper is back in the running for a $23 million, 36-bed skilled nursing facility after a Senate committee on Wednesday amended a House bill that would have located it in Buffalo.

"Our focus has been from the start to place this facility where the veterans have the best opportunity for success," said Charles Walsh, CEO of the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance.

"Casper has all the amenities to provide that population with the services they need to be comfortable in the late stages of their life," Walsh said.

Walsh and his wife are Air Force veterans, and they and other veterans and civic officials on Wednesday spoke to the Senate Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Committee before it decided to amend House Bill 82, he said.

Next week, HB 82 will be read three times to receive the Senate's full approval. After that, it will go to a conference committee for revisions.

Wyoming lacks a skilled nursing facility for end-of-life care for veterans, and the issue has been under discussion for a couple years.

In October, a Wyoming Department of Health report, with the assistance of the Wyoming Veterans Commission and the State Construction Department, identified Casper, Buffalo and Sheridan as the best locations for veterans to have access to a subsidized long-term care benefit that they cannot receive today.

Buffalo has the assisted living Veterans' Home, and Sheridan has the Veterans Administration Medical Center for mental health services.

Casper tentatively was chosen as the location, but the House amended HB 82 to place it in Buffalo at the last minute before sending it to the Senate.

Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, said last week that Buffalo doesn't have the necessary workforce.

Administrators of the hospital and two nursing facilities in Buffalo have testified that they don't want the skilled nursing facility there because the city does not have the professional staff to meet health care needs now.

Casper has about 860 medical personnel, while Buffalo has 104, he said. "There's no way they can compete."

Casper already has the specialists for specialized medical care, which Veterans' Home residents already use after driving two hours on Interstate 25.

Casper City Manager Carter Napier, who testified Wednesday, said most of the concerns of the committee were about the labor force.

Casper also has the land at 12th and Conwell streets, which is 10 blocks south of the Wyoming Medical Center, Napier said, adding there are no environmental problems with the nine acres there.

The tentative plans for the approximately $23 million skilled nursing home would be based on a "Green House" model with three pods of 12 beds each to create a more homelike environment, Anderson said.

The state would pay for about $7 million of the total, with the rest funded by the U.S. Veterans Administration. The VA covers all the other expenses for the operations, he said. "That's the beauty of this facility is that it's self-sufficient; they pay a high daily fee for this skilled nursing facility -- that's why everybody wants it."

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