Put hospital ahead of jail
Understandably, voters in the RDOS are questioning the absence of government funding for the Penticton Regional Hospital expansion. However, the RDOS has already received its major capital project from the B.C. Liberals: B.C.’s biggest remand centre/jail.
Over the objections of many residents, RDOS chair Dan Ashton rallied the region’s elected officials and delivered the promise of a $278-million maximum security prison. They supported the project despite minimal public consultation by Corrections B.C., and in the absence of economic and social impact assessments by the B.C. Liberal government. Astonishingly, Oliver MLA John Slater was even “ecstatic” at the “gift” of B.C.’s biggest prison. But I digress.
These politicians ignored potential negative impacts. “Our” prison, given standard double bunking practices, is now scheduled to have 378 cells (756 inmates). That number is higher than any other B.C. jail, and represents far more than the RDOS’s fair share of B.C.’s criminals.
As one impact example, did they consider that large numbers of inmates suffer with addictions and mental illness, and that these temporary members of our community might have proportionally higher medical needs than the general population? As seen in larger cities, Penticton will soon have Corrections B.C. vans parked outside our regional hospital when inmates require care beyond that which can be delivered in the prison infirmary or Oliver’s small facility.
The need for emergency room visits, major surgery, cancer treatments, etc. isn’t limited to the non-inmate population. Certainly inmates must have their health care needs compassionately addressed, but even with a hospital expansion, how would these extra cases affect RDOS ambulance service, Penticton Regional Hospital’s emergency triage, and local patient wait times? What’s the plan for this?
The contract to build the jail has not yet been signed. The B.C. Liberals should take their “gift” of a prison to the Treasury Board “returns desk”, and trade it for a hospital expansion. This government closed jails in nine B.C. communities since 2001. Now they intend to fix that flawed decision by imposing a mega-prison near Oliver. This was more important to them than the solid work completed within the RDOS that substantiates genuine need for a hospital expansion.
Funds are limited; another major “gift” to the RDOS is unlikely when other B.C. regions have received little. There is still time for the B.C. Liberals to act on fact-based regional priorities, instead of burdening us with those created by their own mistakes.