The government has promised a new hospital for Terrace — and although it may take years to become a reality, there are mixed feelings for what this means for health services in Prince Rupert.
Mills Memorial Hospital is almost 60-years-old and has been a top priority for Northern Health to replace the building with a facility that meets the needs of the community and that will support future demands.
Currently, the hospital services for cancer and kidney care, maternity care and medical imaging. The Northern Health Authority wants the new facility to offer a Level III trauma centre, increasing services and specialists for the region. The only other hospital that offers these services in the north is Prince George Regional Hospital.
Finance Minister Michael de Jong announced on Feb. 28 that the provincial budget supports funding a new hospital in Terrace. Over a three-year period, the budget will spend $2.7 billion on health care projects, including the Terrace facility.
“It’s an awesome announcement, but we have to look after our own too,” Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald said in a council meeting on Feb. 28. “They’re saying we’re still going to have specialists,” he said unsure, stating that the district has questions for how this will play out for North Coast patients.
The chief operating officer for Northern Health, Chris Simms, said the project will benefit the northwest and that the impact will be positive.
“We may be able to result in having a more comprehensive trauma program that will benefit all of the northwest, so really an enhancement, not taking away but giving,” Simms said.
He also mentioned that a new facility will bring a stronger network of services, especially surgical, that will enhance care for the surrounding communities.
The opposition critic for rural and northern health, and North Coast MLA, Jennifer Rice said that at this point there is no reason to assume improvements in Terrace will come at Prince Rupert’s expense.
“I stood up in 2015 to protect Prince Rupert health care and I will do so again,” she said, referring to an internal report on surgical services that suggested shifting a number of services from Prince Rupert to Terrace in a hub and spoke system.
B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake has recommended the hub and spoke model for the region, with Terrace as the hub.
“It’s critical that, if you’re doing surgery, there be a necessary volume. I know if I’m having surgery, I’d rather go to some surgeon that’s doing a lot of those procedures rather than one who only does one once a week,” Lake had said in 2015.
When asked if services would leave the Prince Rupert hospital to a new Terrace facility, Simms said having extra surgical capacity in the northwest can happen without affecting current service levels in Prince Rupert.
“There is no planned service reduction as a result of this,” he said.
The process to build the hospital is now officially in the works, but it’s going to be a while before its in operation. In February, Northern Health submitted its concept plan to the provincial government. That plan is now awaiting approval before they can prepare a business plan.
The decision whether or not to build also hinges on the outcome of the upcoming provincial election.