Regional hospital board approves $1M in after-the-fact funding for Penticton clinic despite displeasure with process

Contentious cash for clinic

After multiple meetings and sometimes heated back-and-forth discussion, the Okanagan Similkameen Regional Hospital District has granted $1 million in capital funding to an already-built urgent primary care clinic in Penticton.

The board dressed down Interior Health representatives when they first came asking for the cash in April after already launching the project. Many board members voiced their displeasure that the health authority seemed to have taken the answer "yes" for granted.

Weeks later in May, the board walked back that decision, provided the Ministry of Health agreed to give the clinic official hospital status under the provincial Hospital Act — meaning the board could provide the requested 40 per cent of capital funding in adherence with its own bylaws.

At Thursday's meeting, the board, comprised of Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen elected directors, learned the Ministry had agreed but slightly tweaked the language in the designation, calling it a "health facility" rather than a "hospital."

This triggered more discussion between board members before a final vote, and strong opinions were once again on the floor.

"Does this open the door that if they just call it a health facility then we're on the hook for 40 per cent of whatever they decide to build?" asked Bob Coyne, rural Princeton director.

CAO Bill Newell explained the board always has the right to refuse Interior Health funding requests. He said the wording change should not have any major impact from the board's point of view.

Others on the board stayed staunch in their disapproval of Interior Health's actions throughout, including Penticton director Katie Robinson who has voted no all along.

"We have a health authority that just goes ahead and builds whatever they want to with no participation, and then sticks out their hand and they ask us to pay for it, and I'm sorry but that's not good enough for this director," Robinson said.

Some of the directors from outside Penticton had concerns the new clinic, located on Martin Street downtown, only benefitted locals.

Others saw differently, pointing out that the clinic's intention is to take pressure off the Penticton Regional Hospital emergency room, which is the major hub hospital throughout the RDOS used for major health emergencies that smaller hospitals can't accommodate.

"We're way out here in the sticks, as some people like to refer to us, and sometimes we have to use the emergency room and [get transferred to Penticton] and there's a long wait," said Princeton director and town Mayor Spencer Coyne.

"You've already been waiting to get a pickup in an ambulance ... it might be four hours off from there. If [the clinic] alleviates some of the backlog at Penticton hospital, and it means that residents over here and in Area H or those travelling through our community, then I'm going to support that."

Ultimately, the funding was approved, with six directors in opposition: Subrina Monteith of Area I Kaleden/Apex, Doug Holmes of Summerland, Karla Kozakevich of Area E Naramata, Katie Robinson of Penticton, Martin Johansen of Oliver and Rick Knodel of Area C rural Oliver.

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