Minister of Health Terry Lake visited Penticton Tuesday, doing some damage control in the wake of earlier comments implying the South Okanagan shouldn’t expect to see a promised expansion to the Penticton Regional Hospital in this government term.
“I fully expect within a couple of years, we’ll be getting this project underway,” said Lake. His earlier comments, he explained, were misunderstood.
“What I meant to say was it wouldn’t be open in this term, it wouldn’t be finished,” said Lake. “I can understand how people took that comment and thought, ‘oh they are not going to get a shovel in the ground.’”
Lake said he understands why his comments upset people in the region, after being passed over several times.
“There is nothing like a hospital to raise a lot of emotions in a community,” said Lake.
“They are looking for the facility to be improved. I can understand people’s emotions.”
Lake also regrets not being clearer he was referring to the total time it would take for construction.
“I thought the question was, will it be open within the next four years. I said no, it’s going to take a little longer than that,” said Lake, explaining that the construction phase could take up to five years.
Janice Perrino, hospital district chair, said Lake got a good look at conditions at PRH during his tour and why there is an urgent need to keep the project moving.
“It was desperate. And he saw it, our emergency room was packed beyond belief, the hallways were packed with equipment, it was just unbelievable,” said Perrino. Lake also saw the effects of a recent flood, elevator repairs and other problems.
“The list goes on and on and he saw that. Every available inch of this hospital is used and it needs to be expanded,” said Perrino.
Lake commended the staff for working through less than ideal conditions.
“They are a remarkable team there, they are doing a fantastic job under some trying conditions, given the physical plant and the age and the space they are working in,” said Lake. “They are an amazing group of people with really good outcomes, so they are to be commended.”
According to Perrino, PRH regularly operates at 110 per cent of capacity, having been built in the 1950s for a population of 10,000 and now serving 90,000.
“We are under stress all the time,” said Perrino. “He saw that.”
Lake said there is no fixed date for the start of construction, but the business plan is expected to be completed early next year, and then the project will move on to the Treasury Board for approval.
“It has to go through that whole process,” said Lake. “It’s not like building a house or a hotel even, it’s pretty complex stuff with all the different kind of systems that are needed and all the equipment.”
Lake reaffirmed the Liberal government’s commitment to the project.
“We will be well underway certainly by the time this term is done. It is a commitment the premier has made, it’s a commitment I have made.” said Lake. “People in Penticton should know they are getting a new patient care tower for sure.”