After drawing about 800 people to a town hall meeting on Wednesday, doctors pushing for a $300-million hospital expansion in Penticton are now waiting to see if the B.C. government responds with cash.
The meeting was organized by the Penticton Medical Society in a bid to rally public support for the project, which would ease doctors’ concerns about the overcrowded, outdated facility in which they work.
Dr. David Paisley, who heads the society of 120 physicians, said afterwards he was encouraged by the size of the crowd at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre.
“This was much better than we anticipated,” he said. “We were really happy with the turnout.”
Doctors hope public pressure will persuade the B.C. government to include funding for the hospital in the budget it unveils Feb. 19. The regional hospital district and medical foundation have already pledged a total of $140 million for the project, leaving $160 million for senior governments to cover.
Paisley said his group is optimistic, but ready for anything.
“If we’re not in the budget, we might be getting up and making more noise objecting to the fact that we’re not included,” he said. “We’re not going to stop.”
He added that doctors will be not be satisfied with anything but a full funding commitment from government.
“I hope that they do not short-change us and just approve a small part of the project because that’s a stalemate,” Paisley said.
Wednesday’s two-hour meeting began with doctors going over the components of the expansion, the centrepiece of which is a new, four-storey ambulatory care tower.
Dr. Brad Raison told the crowd the last major expansion at Penticton Regional Hospital was in 1989 and included work on the emergency room and intensive care unit, but cost cuts meant the project was scaled back and “outdated from the day it started.”
The tower, he continued, would address the space crunch and improve efficiencies by concentrating diagnostics and outpatient services in the new building, which would also help attract specialists trained to use technology for which there is simply no room at PRH.
Raison, an ER doctor and the hospital’s chief of staff, said the facility, which opened in 1951, punches above it weight on most performance measures, which has hurt the case for the new tower despite its place at the top of Interior Health’s capital wish list.
Governments “do not reward success,” he said. “They reward failure.”
Dr. Sarah Broder explained how most of her patients have to walk about a kilometre through the hospital to have a routine set of tests done.
“For them, this is like the bloody Ironman,” she said.
The respirologist noted the current proposed expansion is the third version she’s worked on in a decade, and staff is now running out of “Band-Aid solutions” to the space shortage.
“There’s only so many times a place can be renovated before you run into troubles, and right now, we can’t renovate anymore.”
The doctors also answered audience questions, and among those who spoke up was Penticton woman Noreen Conway, who asked how she could best channel her desire to become an activist for the project.
She said afterwards she was “really impressed” with the doctors’ presentation and left with a firmer grasp of the need for the tower.
“I’m 53. I’m somebody who will be using the facility in the future and I hope it’s going to continue to offer great service and state-of-the-art technology of the day,” Conway said.
She plans to create a Facebook page to help rally younger people to the cause and continue to support doctors any way she can.
“We just need to get loud and proud about what we want, what we need and what we deserve,” Conway said.
To bolster the medical association’s efforts to win funding for the tower, the City of Penticton has also puts its economic development officer to work on the case. Colleen Pennington told the meeting the project would represent “a substantial boost to our economy that will help us through some challenging years.”
She said Thursday the event generated signatures on 330 form letters, which have been sent to the B.C. government. Letters are still available at City Hall or can be downloaded off the doctors’ website at www.prhtower.ca.
Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff was not at Wednesday’s meeting and could not be reached for comment Thursday. He’s in Victoria where the legislature is in the midst of a 19-day sitting.