News last week that the Penticton hospital expansion project is going ahead came as relief to many people, but perhaps none more so than Dan Ashton.
The project served as a key plank of his successful 2013 campaign to become the Liberal MLA for Penticton.
“It’s a promise made and a promise kept. Not only by the premier and the health minister, but also by myself,” he said.
Premier Christy Clark announced in March that the B.C. government had “notionally” identified funding for the project, but ordered a business plan be completed before the project could go ahead.
Last week, she gave the green light to that $325-million plan, which will include a seven-storey ambulatory care tower and renovations to the existing hospital, making it a bigger job than originally conceived.
Ashton said that expanded scope meant it took “a little longer” to get the project approved than originally expected.
Health Minister Terry Lake, who told the B.C. legislature this spring that a decision was expected by the end of June, said busy meeting schedules also slowed approval.
“It’s got to go through Treasury Board and the different processes and there’s only so much time you have on those agendas, so there was nothing untoward or unusual, it was just a matter of timing, that’s all,” he said in an interview last week.
Lake said his government heard calls for improvements at the outdated Penticton hospital from local politicians, the community and doctors, but had to balance the need here with those elsewhere.
Ashton will now continue to head a project liaison committee that will relay updates to the community and local leaders whom he credited with helping get the project approved.
“Having the premier in the adjoining riding, having the growth in the Okanagan, that makes a huge difference,” he added. “And having everybody work together. That’s what made a difference.”
Construction of the tower is expected to begin in about 18 months and take approximately five years to complete.
A B.C. government press release issued last week noted the tower will include a walk-in care centre, surgical services, in-patient beds and space for a medical school. However, it’s still unclear if other items included in the concept plan, such as a helipad and oncology centre, will be in the final design.
Interior Health was unable to provide details by press time.