What will it take to get improved patient care in this region?
Last week Interior Health representatives appeared before the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District Board to answer that very question.
The hospital board wanted to know why there has been no action from Interior Health and the provincial government towards the much-needed construction of a new patient care facility in Penticton.
Both Penticton and regional district taxpayers have been saving money for the last 10 years, in anticipation of having to pay the provincially legislated 40 per cent share of capital infrastructure. This year, that reserve account will approach $30 million, with $800,000 already spent on design work. The health foundation has committed $20 million to the project.
So, why then, does Penticton get shoved into the back seat while Vernon gets its hospital expansion? After all, Vernon was number five on Interior Health’s list of capital projects and Interior Health claims Penticton is still number one on their list.
The answer from Interior Heath was clear: public pressure. In Vernon, hospital staff and concerned citizens mounted demonstrations in front of the hospital to make the public aware of the inadequate facility. The situation made front-page headlines as demonstrators waved placards along Highway 97. The provincial government responded by funding the new hospital.
In Penticton, there has been no noise.
The overworked Penticton staff is tirelessly continuing to deliver excellent care in an inadequate facility, working as efficiently and co-operatively as possible. It is therefore easier for government to ignore Penticton and the facts of our situation.
Our 60-year-old hospital was built to meet the needs of 10,000 people. The area population now exceeds 90,000. The building is inefficient as hallways are often crowded with stretchers, innovation and new technology gets housed in closets and spare corners, and a maze of services become increasingly difficult to access. The building is not as safe as it should be.
Over the past 10 years, Kelowna has annually received $108 per person for capital improvements in health facilities. Vernon has received $92 per person. Meanwhile, Penticton receives only $22 per person.
It’s our turn. But the principles of fiscal fairness, patient need and economic opportunity don’t seem to count. Neither does that fact that an eager partner awaits with its share of the money already saved. Unfortunately, it’s not principled decision making that will get Penticton hospital a much-needed expansion. Instead, it comes down to public pressure.
That’s the message I have been hearing from provincial cabinet ministers during the time I have been actively lobbying the government, and that’s the message that was re-enforced again last Thursday by Interior Health.
Unless Penticton residents hit the streets with placards and rallies, turning up the heat for provincial politicians, we will be waiting a long time for a new hospital.
Garry Litke, vice-chair
Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District Board