Watertown’s hospital asks city for $5M in federal rescue plan funds

Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 5:51 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Watertown’s Samaritan Medical Center is working through year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, facing staffing shortages and higher than usual demand. Now, the hospital is turning to the city for help, requesting more than $5 million in federal funds.

SMC has been relying on traveling nurses to keep up with a nationwide labor shortage on top of a global pandemic.

The problem? It costs a lot of money.

So, the hospital is asking city council for more than $5 million to hire more traveling nurses.

“We were actually passed over on some of the funds that were released during the pandemic. So, I think for us, we’re constantly advocating for our self because we have to in trying to make elected officials and those really informed of the position we find ourselves in,” said Leslie DiStefano, director of communication and public relations.

What do lawmakers think? This is an issue they’ve dealt with before when Hospice of Jefferson County requested half-a-million dollars in American Rescue Plan money for its expansion.

At the time, the previous council decided not to pick “winners and losers.” So, it voted American Rescue Plan funds would go to city improvements only and reevaluate the idea for nonprofits later this year. Both Mayor Jeff Smith and Council member Sarah Compo Pierce stick to this policy.

New council members Cliff Onley and Patrick Hickey, along with Lisa Ruggiero, want to see a portion of the funds go to the Northern New York Community Foundation, which can decide how to distribute the funds based on criteria.

That portion, around $500,000, is just a fraction of what Samaritan is asking for.

“We would be allocating funds according to need of the nonprofits, just like we did for the businesses in town when we allocated that money,” said Olney.

But Mayor Smith says it’s impossible to decide who gets funds and who doesn’t.

“In Jefferson County, there’s another two hospitals. There’s Alex Bay and Carthage. I know they’re not in the city of Watertown, but are you going to pick a winner and loser in healthcare,” he said.

A decision to change the policy was not made at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, but Samaritan says it will continue to look for help where it can find it.

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