A crowd of about 800 people jammed the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre on Wednesday to hear doctors explain the need for a hospital expansion project.

A crowd of about 800 people jammed the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre on Wednesday to hear doctors explain the need for a hospital expansion project.

Doctors turn up pressure for Penticton hospital expansion

Health minister expects to see options for PRH business case in the next couple of weeks

It should look today like a gathering of the walking wounded as Penticton doctors stage a public rally to continue building support for a proposed $300-million hospital expansion project.

The rally is scheduled for 11 a.m. on the lawn of the First Baptist Church at the corner of Carmi Avenue and Government Street, across from Penticton Regional Hospital.

“The idea is we’re going to keep the issue in the forefront so we can move ahead with the project and get it approved,” explained Dr. David Paisley, president of the Penticton Medical Staff Society.

A notice posted on the society’s website asks people to dress in black for the rally and bring props like bandages, crutches, wheelchairs and canes. Attendees are also encouraged to make signs bearing slogans like, “Build tower now,” or, “We’ve waited long enough.”

Paisley said the suggested themes for attire and signs are meant “just to have a bit of impact.”

“This rally is for the community of the South Okanagan. There’s no financial gains for the physicians to stand up and make noise. This is for the community, for now and for decades down the road,” he said.

The medical society is calling on the B.C. government to commit to funding its $160-million share of a new, four-storey ambulatory care tower to address a space crunch at the hospital, which opened in 1951. The balance of the cost would be covered by local taxpayers and the hospital foundation.

Doctors first went public with their concerns at a town hall meeting on Feb. 6 that was attended by about 800 people. Two days later, Premier Christy Clark toured PRH and promised to “kick down those barriers” that have stalled the project for a decade.

Clark told reporters she would ask Ministry of Health staff to expedite work on the project’s business case, which is expected to take six to eight months to complete and is the last stage in the planning process.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said Friday she has asked her deputy minister to make good on Clark’s promise, but it will likely be a few weeks yet before bureaucrats figure out just how to do that.

“There’s a lot of stuff happening in the ministry right now that’s quite demanding, so I think within a couple of weeks they will be bringing forward some options to me. I don’t think it will take longer than that,” she said.

“It doesn’t mean, ‘OK, now we’re going to blast ahead,’ but at least that’s when I’m going to have stuff presented to me.”

But the minister is unsure exactly what the options will look like.

“I can’t hypothesize about what’s going to be brought to me,” she said.

“The premier’s direction was how can we make this happen more quickly, so I think that is what we’ll be looking at: What is the art of the possible?”

MacDiarmid added that she’s aware of the need for the new tower and its status as a hot-button issue in Penticton.

“The community is very, very engaged and that’s not surprising,” she said. “The hospital’s very important to people there and I understand that.”

Preparation of the business case is expected to be a joint effort of staff from Interior Health and the Ministry of Health.

Interior Health spokesperson Lannea Parfitt said Tuesday that her agency had not yet been contacted by the ministry about the work.