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Doctors make case for Penticton hospital expansion

B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid (left) chats with Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff and Penticton Regional Hospital senior administrator Lori Motluk on Wednesday after her tour of the facility. Earlier in the day, local doctors told the minister the hospital is in dire need of an expansion. - Joe Fries/Western News
B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid (left) chats with Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff and Penticton Regional Hospital senior administrator Lori Motluk on Wednesday after her tour of the facility. Earlier in the day, local doctors told the minister the hospital is in dire need of an expansion.
— image credit: Joe Fries/Western News

Doctors have prescribed a major expansion project to cure the shortage of space that plagues Penticton’s hospital, but their plea for help this week failed to produce a funding commitment from the province.

About 25 medical professionals turned out Wednesday for a luncheon hosted by the local B.C. Liberal riding association that featured Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid as the guest speaker. The minister was in the city for a tour of Penticton Regional Hospital, which is slated for an as-yet unfunded $300-million expansion to improve outpatient services.

“We are here as community physicians telling you and representing to you that it’s overdue,” said Dr. Susan Tebbutt, a pathologist who chairs the hospital’s medical advisory committee and was among a handful of doctors who pitched the project to the minister.

She said 14 outpatient beds were added to PRH in 1989, but that space is now used to handle overflow from the emergency room, so outpatient services are simply offered wherever there’s room.

“We can’t cope anymore,” Tebbutt said.

Dr. Brad Raison said the proposed addition of a four-storey ambulatory care tower to bolster outpatient services would complement what’s offered at hospitals in larger centres.

“We’re never going to be able to compete with the kind of care they can give. What we can do is state-of-the-art diagnostics and ambulatory care services,” said Raison, an ER physician.

The plan shouldn’t require more in-patient beds or staff, he added, although there will be increased expenses, such as heating and cleaning costs, that come with the expansion.

It will also make life easier for patients, said Dr. Sarah Broder, a respirologist and past chief of staff at the hospital.

Broder said most of her patients are seniors, half of whom require supplemental oxygen that’s delivered from a tank they tow around with them. She urged the health minister to consider those people while visiting the facility.

“I’d really like you to imagine pulling five or 10 pounds behind you and (note) how far you have to walk for four standard tests that would be done,” Broder told MacDiarmid.

“And if this ambulatory care facility is built, what will happen is (patients) will walk in one door, go to one spot and be able to get everything that they require in one place,” Broder continued.

“It is efficient, it is appropriate and it is what our community really needs.”

MacDiarmid said after her tour of PRH that she found the local doctors’ pitches “compelling.” But she said it would be “very unfair” to provide a date when the government will decide on funding the expansion because outside forces, like an urgent need at another facility, could impact the decision.

“We will work on it. It’s clearly a priority, and not just for Penticton. Provincially, we understand this is something we need to get to,” she said.

MacDiarmid, a former family doctor, also noted a handful of other B.C. hospitals are about the same age as PRH, which opened in 1951, and also in need of upgrades.

“But I’m certainly going to go back and have a really careful look at all the capital needs. I understand that this one’s big, and the only thing is: How many other ones are as big or bigger?” she said.

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.

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