Premier Christy Clark promised Friday to “kick down” the barriers that have stalled the proposed $300-million expansion of Penticton Regional Hospital.
Her surprise visit to the hospital came two days after doctors staged a town hall meeting where 800 people heard physicians’ concerns about the overcrowded, outdated facility. Clark did not, however, commit to funding the four-storey ambulatory care tower that is meant to fix the problem.
“It is many months away, but you only get there step by step,” she said.
“The problems has been this has been stalled between the concept stage and the business case stage. I’m going to go home, we’re going to kick down those barriers and we are going to get this next stage of this project moving more quickly.”
Clark said the business case, which should take six to eight months to complete, will contain detailed financial information needed to incorporate the project into the provincial budget and put the project out to tender.
“We need to do all of this in the context of our fiscal plan,” she added, “because we aren’t a government that just spends money without asking questions first. But we’re going to make sure that once we get the numbers nailed down… we’ll find a way to fit it into our fiscal plan.”
Janice Perrino, chair of the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District, said her board had been waiting for a “trigger” from the B.C. government to move ahead with the business case, and is “cautiously optimistic” that work will now proceed.
The regional hospital district and medical foundation have agreed to contribute a total of $140 million to the new tower, leaving $160 million for the B.C. government to cover.
Doctors had been hoping the cash would be included in the provincial budget due Feb. 19, but are pleased their efforts to apply public pressure to the government seem to have worked.
Those efforts have been coordinated by the Penticton Medical Society, led by president Dr. David Paisley, who accompanied the premier on her tour.
Paisley said Clark listened carefully to what doctors told her and “seems to appreciate the difficulties we’re experiencing.”
“This is not completely what we wanted,” Paisley added, “but she (was) here, she’s aware of it, and we’re hoping that this will push it forward so we’re able to inch closer to getting what we want. I think it’s a constructive move.”
He said no further public demonstrations have been planned yet.
“We’re going to see what she can deliver. And if we don’t see anything, we’re happy to get out and encourage people to help encourage (government),” Paisley said.
“We certainly hope that they can deliver.”
Before leaving the hospital en route to a different announcement in Oliver, Clark stopped to chat with Penticton couple Glen and Marilyn Wilkinson.
“She just came over to say, ‘Hello,’ and, ‘Nice meeting you,’ and it was nice that she would do that,” Glen said.
Marilyn, who had just visited the facility’s pain clinic, said she has seen first-hand the need for the new tower and fully supports the project.
“The treatment we received was awesome but (doctors) are working with inferior equipment and no room.”