Mayor Dan Ashton has enlisted the public’s help to keep a pair of political heavyweights from derailing the drive for expansion of Penticton Regional Hospital.
At Monday’s council meeting, he told the audience that Kamloops MLAs Kevin Krueger and Terry Lake had been pushing to have a hospital expansion there given priority over one here.
A new, $300 million patient care tower at PRH is currently at the top of Interior Health’s wish list; a new surgical tower at Royal Inland Hospital is No. 3.
Ashton asked the public to write to IH and local MLAs to ensure Penticton retains priority.
“We’ve heard through the grapevine that Minister Lake and (MLA) Krueger would like improvements to the Kamloops hospital, and it’s our understanding that we are at the top of Interior Health’s list and we want to maintain that,” Ashton said in an interview Thursday.
Ashton was uncertain how the MLAs had been expressing their desire: “I don’t know how it goes, I’ve just heard comments.”
Lake told the Western News he has never asked Health Minister Mike de Jong to ignore guidance from IH, although they have discussed the situation at RIH.
“We talk about Kamloops and the hundreds of million dollars that have been invested in the Okanagan. And that doesn’t go unnoticed in Kamloops,” Lake said.
Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff said he hasn’t discussed the matter with his Liberal colleagues, but said he and Boundary-Similkameen MLA John Slater are pushing “extremely hard” to get the new tower built at PRH.
Barisoff said he was told by former health minister Kevin Falcon that politics are kept out of such capital spending decisions, and IH “makes the calls and where they think things should be.”
That said, “Everything’s always a political process to a certain degree,“ he allowed.
IH chief financial officer Donna Lommer said the wish list itself is removed from the political process, and all items are “critically important.”
“We certainly wouldn’t put something on the list just because it’s come forward from a political arm,” she said. However, “I’m not privy to the behind-the-scenes decisions that happen at the ministry level.”