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Lowville hospital finally moving forward with dialysis project


LOWVILLE — Last March, Lewis County General Hospital held a groundbreaking ceremony for its dialysis project.

One year later, the project finally appears to be on track, with an opening possible by March 2014.

“The administration, the board and the legislators all are looking very forward to providing this service to the community and getting this project in place,” said Eric R. Burch, CEO of the county-owned hospital. “It has been a priority, and it has been a long process. We want to see it come to fruition.”

Mr. Burch told hospital managers Wednesday that he received an electronic copy of a signed lease agreement with DaVita Inc. earlier this week. And, although still awaiting confirmation of expected grant funding, he plans to bring the long-discussed project to county legislators next week to “push it forward.”

The state Department of Health in early 2011 approved a certificate of need for DaVita to operate a dialysis clinic on the hospital’s North State Street campus.

However, it has taken the better part of two years to iron out project details, particularly a 10-year lease agreement with DaVita.

The planned center would provide a local treatment option for Lewis County residents who now must travel to Watertown or Utica to receive dialysis. Up to 30 dialysis patients in Lewis County typically undergo four-hour treatments three days a week.

Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown, has designed a 7,200-square-foot addition off the west side of the Medical Arts Building’s first floor and basement to accommodate the dialysis center. Upon completion of the building shell, the hospital would turn it over to DaVita, which would do the interior finish work.

While the construction cost estimate has risen to $1.7 million over the past few years, thanks to design alterations and inflation, most of it is expected to be covered by grant funding.

A $300,000 grant was awarded by Empire State Development Corp. in December. Hospital officials are hopeful that at least another $900,000 in grant funding will be available through the state Department of Health for the project, and they continue to seek additional funding sources.

The Lewis County Hospital Foundation has also collected roughly $100,000 through fund-raising efforts for the dialysis project, Mr. Burch said.

Any outstanding expenses would hopefully be recouped within a few years through $124,000 in annual rental income from DaVita.

Along with rent, DaVita also will reimburse the hospital for maintenance and housekeeping services, electricity, heating and water and sewer services.

Assuming the grant funding comes through, the county should not need to take on more borrowing for the project, Mr. Burch said. Plans are for the hospital to cover any needed funding with county reserves, then pay it back as the lease payments come in, he said.

DaVita plans to lease only a little more than 5,000 square feet of the addition, leaving some space in the basement for other possible uses, Mr. Burch said.

The idea of a dialysis center here has been floated for the better part of the past decade.

County legislators in 2006 and 2007 supported certificate-of-need submissions that would have allowed Renal Care of Northern New York, Watertown, to set up a dialysis operation here, but those plans never came to fruition.

Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare, Utica, in fall 2009 submitted another certificate-of-need application. However, by the time the project received state approval, Faxton St. Luke’s officials had decided not to move forward, leaving local officials searching for another partner. They eventually found one in DaVita, a company based in Denver, Colorado, that operates similar centers throughout the country.

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