Before the media firestorm that has continued for 3-1/2 years, and long after the “draft hospital siting study” was made public (purportedly completed prior to a “legislative language change”), the board of MVHS was discussing coming out publicly on where to best build a new hospital.
Jim Brock, who has personal friends on the hospital board, started a Facebook group on August 22, 2015. Jim subsquently contacted me, “Brett they’re going to bulldoze downtown for a hospital, I need your help on Facebook.” Jim further stated, the hospital board is being pressured to vote unanimously on the downtown location.
As #NoHospitalDowntown (myself and Jim) started making media appearances, Jim imparted to me, “...the board decided to vote downtown unanimously, but only if at the same time they could vote unanimously for St. Luke’s as the backup site.”
As research will show, 12 possible sites were found, but the downtown was first choice and St. Luke’s was the alternative. That was the story the public began hearing, often as “if downtown proves financially unviable, then the St. Luke’s campus is our backup site.”
As the debate gained momentum, #NoHospitalDowntown began exchanging words with area’s political leaders. Government officials told us, “there are wetlands at St.Luke’s and hospital can’t be built there,” “the hospital board picked downtown, not us”, and “a hospital will revitalize Downtown Utica.” Reasons why, who, how, and when the downtown site was picked, and so many others stories became weekly media fodder.
Sides were drawn, and eventually #NoHospitalDowntown was labeled as the “vocal minority”, “naysayers”, a group “using misinformation”, “fear mongers”, or people “against Utica”, etc. We brought to town urban planners, held rallies and meetings, called press conferences and backed political candidates that were opposed to the downtown hospital. Some candidates wanted to create a #NoHospitalDwtn political party, which our group lent support to.
Our Facebook group grew, alliances were made, but office-holding politicians worked to discredit our movement, “the debate is over”, when actually they never allowed one. At a later point hospital administration started weighing in; radio, newspapers and TV shared the rivaling reports and opinions.
After hiring a PR firm, MVHS eventually called public forums. While there was clear dislike for downtown in these meetings, attendees and the hospital’s handouts concluded that meetings were not about location, just how to design a downtown hospital.
The “yes downtown” side had various social media efforts. Individuals sometimes were identified, but others were veiled, and eventually four community groups (Chamber, Genesis, Community Foundation, MVEDGE) held a joint press conference stating they were now the official “build downtown” group. The new “yes team” was overwhelming t-shirt wearing union members and a limited number of downtown businesses with clear conflicts of interest.
#NoHospitalDowntown had long since created two websites, continually posted to the group’s Facebook page, and used wide-ranging storylines to turn away what we see as destructive urban renewal.
In January of 2018, #NoHospitalDowntown forced release of emails from officials regarding the hospital. The emails seem to clearly indicate the hospital board did not independently pick downtown. Other revelations discovered also point to this, but regardless, #NoHospitalDowntown was minimized. We threaten legal action early. I purchased a historic building I wish to save and to gain legal standing, so to help others not wishing to be displaced.
After arriving at SEQR, it’s public hearings/meetings, our calls to law firms brings us to today’s stage.
(Note: It must be pointed out, there was never a study calling for the necessity for an entirely new hospital. Money “just seemed to appear from Albany” to aid Utica’s three separate hospitals that were working towards a complete merger, and thus the "yes-no downtown" debate was born. At the same time, Albany has had ongoing economic development contests for buckets of money (in addition to Albany's own independently directed buckets of money), which Upstate communities compete for each year. Coincidentally the names behind the hospital project are the same names of people vying for the buckets of money, some with glaring conflicts of interest.)
Return to Brett's Hospital Blog page.
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