A top official from Interior Health told local politicians Thursday they’ll need to get tough with decision-makers in the B.C. government if they want funding for a new hospital tower in Penticton.
“I think you need to be in their faces,” Norm Embree, chair of the IH board of directors, told members of the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District.
The proposed $300-million ambulatory care tower for Penticton Regional Hospital is at the top of the wish list the health authority has submitted to government, yet lower-ranked projects in Vernon and Kamloops have already been funded.
Embree, who was called to Thursday’s meeting to explain why, said the answer lies with members of the B.C. government’s treasury board.
“It is basically their call. All we can do is keep advocating for our list, as it exists,” Embree said.
“After that, it’s out of our hands.”
Embree said the government’s decision to jump the queue in Vernon and begin work shelling in two floors in the new hospital tower was a result of public pressure there.
“That was done because the community and the doctors and the press and the whole community got behind that project and made it No. 1. We didn’t,” he said.
“Our funders and our masters decided that’s where they were going to spend their money.”
Penticton city councillor Garry Litke, also a hospital board member, said it was “very disturbing to hear that No. 5 on the list can be elevated to No. 1 on the list because of a squeaky wheel. “It seems to me that that’s not a principled way of making a decision.”
“It may be disturbing,” Embree said, “but it’s the way it is.”
Tom Siddon suggested the region’s representatives in Victoria have been ineffective in their efforts to lobby their own Liberal government.
Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff is set to retire, while Boundary-Similkameen MLA John Slater has announced he won’t run again and is “persona non grata with his own party,” said Siddon, who represents Kaleden-Okanagan Falls on the hospital board.
Hospital board chair Janice Perrino vowed to turn up the heat on the provincial government and issued a call for community action.
“We’re not going to be quiet anymore. We’re not going to do what we’ve been doing anymore… and I hope that the medical community isn’t going to do what they’ve been doing. I hope they’re going to get very noisy,” Perrino said.
“And we hope that the general public gets on board and makes life a little more difficult for the province, because we need to somehow stand up together.”
The South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation has already committed to fundraising $20 million for the expansion, while the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District has pledged to come up with another $120 million. That leaves a $160-million funding gap for the province to fill.
As conceived, the four-storey ambulatory care tower would feature a medical school, surgical suites, outpatient clinics and an oncology centre. The plan also calls for a new five-storey parkade to go up beside the tower.