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B.C. to proceed with redevelopment of Royal Columbian Hospital

BC Health Minister Mike de Jong chats with the Belle Purri and Adrienne Bakker of the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation following an announcement Tuesday that the government is commiting to redeveloping the hospital to add hundreds of new beds, expand the emergency department and create new surgical suites. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
BC Health Minister Mike de Jong chats with the Belle Purri and Adrienne Bakker of the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation following an announcement Tuesday that the government is commiting to redeveloping the hospital to add hundreds of new beds, expand the emergency department and create new surgical suites.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

The province has committed to redeveloping Royal Columbian Hospital, but isn't ready to put a dollar figure on its pledge.

Health Minister Mike de Jong told health care officials and the media at the hospital Tuesday that his government was formally committed to the project which was presented to the ministry conceptually by Fraser Health more than two years ago.

"We're talking about a new hospital that will contain hundreds of more beds, a state-of-the-art facility" that will accommodate new technologies, said de Jong. "When we say we are going to build a new hospital, we build it and we're going to build this one."

The minister said the total cost is still unknown but "we're talking about something that could reach something upwards of three quarters of a billion dollars."

"Royal Columbian will, I think, eclipse all of the [previous hospital capital projects] in terms of what it represents—a billion-dollar plus project," he said in May 2011 in response to questions from New Westminster MLA Dawn Black about the delay in making a commitment.

On Tuesday, de Jong was reluctant to elaborate on the price tag saying that will emerge when the business case is done, which is expected to be in October. A new RCH's future operating costs will also have to be factored in because they will be "dramatically higher" than the current ones.

"We don't know the final cost, that's why we do the detailed business cases, and it's why one is reluctant to say any figure because reporters are going to raise what you said in the past," said de Jong in an interview following the announcement.

De Jong said it will take several years to complete the project. "A new Royal Columbian Hospital won't emerge overnight."

The commitment comes as the hospital celebrates its 150th anniversary.

"It is time to be planning and building for the next 150 years," said de Jong.

He received a long, loud ovation from the many health care professionals and administrators in the room when he announced the commitment. It was news that was also welcomed by Black, even though she is a member of the NDP opposition.

"I'm delighted. It's long overdue. It's a positive announcement," said Black. "There is a firm commitment from the government for this project to go ahead. We all know how badly this is needed."

To her, the goodwill of the announcement overrode any concerns about the difference in the dollars from de Jong.

"I'll cut him some slack because it's all in the concept and business plan where we're really going to find out where the actual dollars come in," said Black. "You can be sure I'll be keeping a very watchful eye."

Black wouldn't speculate on why it took the government more than two years to make the commitment.

"It's taken too long in my opinion when we all know the critical need for more space," said Black.

De Jong said the province will work with Fraser Health to finalize the business plan. The province will also be counting on the community.

"We have set ourselves an ambitious target and one that will cost," said de Jong, before light-heartedly directing a comment to RCHF members in the audience. "Hello, members of the [Royal Columbian Hospital] foundation!"

It was a challenge to which foundation CEO Adrienne Bakker enthusiastically pumped her arms in response. After the announcement, she said the extent of RCHF's role won't be known until the business plan is done.

"The foundation will partner with Fraser Health and the ministry in helping raise money for various aspects of the project," said Bakker. "What's still to be determined is what the foundation would be willing to commit to."

Fraser Health CEO Nigel Murray said the redevelopment is "a big challenge, but we'll do it," pointing out it takes time when it comes to large capital projects.

"With three quarters of a billion dollars you've got to be careful about how you plan that. The planning process is long, but it's necessarily long," said Murray on Tuesday. "You shouldn't get caught up in price tags, it's the early days and you have to go through the process ... This is huge, this will be one of the best health capital developments in the history of British Columbia. What a birthday present!"

Murray noted Fraser Health and the province have collaborated in recent years on building a new $475 million hospital in Abbotsford, a $512 million expansion of Surrey Memorial and the $237 million Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre in Surrey.

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