Hospital advocates demand answers

Members of the Okanagan Similkameen Regional Hospital District Board demanded answers from Interior Health  regarding the future of Penticton Regional Hospital  upgrades at their meeting Thursday.

The meeting which grew heated at times stemmed  from frustration on what is happening with a new patient tower, advocates say needs to be built at the aging hospital.

“We are tired of waiting and it’s our turn," said chair Janice Perrino. "We will do more to be more noisy."

Perrino said making upgrades to the hospital has been years in the making but came to the forefront around 12 years ago when it became obvious the hospital built in 1951 needed  work.

Among the concerns are a very inefficient way of moving patients, and the fact it is grossly undersized and  badly in need of technological  upgrades.

The primary upgrade will be a four story ambulatory care tower featuring a medical school, surgical suites, outpatient clinics and an oncology centre. A parking structure would go in beside the tower.

The total cost of the project is $300 million. The district has agreed to fund $120 million and the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation has agreed to fund $20 million to purchase medical equipment.

That makes for $140 million in place with $160 million needed from the province.

At Thursday's meeting Perrino and other board directors directed their questions toward Norman Embree, Interior Health board chair.

Perrino stated they have not heard  anything from the executive staff at Interior Health since last summer regarding the patient care tower, while news has come out of money going to Vernon and Kamloops.

"We want you to tell us what Interior Health is doing to put pressure on the provincial government," she said.

Vice chair Garry Litke provided statistics that over 10 years, Interior Health has spent $22 per person, per year in Penticton compared to $92 per person, per year in Vernon and $108 per person, a year in Kelowna.

"We feel we have been neglected in the valley, and it's our turn," he said. "If there is no construction in the next couple of years people are going to be very angry."

Embree  said he agreed with what board members were saying and that they brought up a lot of good points.

“I think the perception is when we put something on the top of the list it will be immediately approved by the treasury board," he said. "It is basically the call of the provincial government, all we can do is keep advocating for our list."

As far as money going to places like Kelowna and Vernon, he said it typically flows to cities where there has been a groundswell of support  for such projects.

Kelowna typically benefits because  it serves such a wide area.

“The community has to get very noisy, you have to advocate for yourselves and get in their faces," he said.

Perrino said that is exactly what they plan to do. There is already support from the medical staff at the hospital and people in the community for more action to be taken on the upgrade.

In December,  doctors let their needs be known to BC Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid on her visit to the city.

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