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Penticton doctors diagnose a crisis at hospital

Town hall meeting planned for Feb. 13 so physicians can outline problems with undersized facility and explain need for $300-million upgrade
Dr. David Paisley

Doctors will lean on their patients for help securing government funding for a $300-million expansion of Penticton Regional Hospital, but B.C.’s health minister says she’s already well-aware of physicians’ concerns.

Members of the Penticton Medical Society will host a town hall meeting Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre to rally public support for a new, four-storey ambulatory care tower.

“We think this is a crisis because we’re really at the end of our physical resources,” said Dr. David Paisley, president of the society that represents 120 physicians who work at the hospital, which opened in 1951 and is routinely over capacity.

“If this is not dealt with now, we’re going to be in trouble."

The medical society has also created a website - - to outline its concerns.

Doctors in December spoke out publicly on the issue for the first time during a luncheon with the health minister. And in January, Norm Embree, who chairs the board of Interior Health, advised a group of local politicians the public needs to make more noise to get the government to ante up.

Paisley said doctors have been quiet until now not because they feared retribution, but because they thought it best to keep their heads down.

“We have been of the opinion that we work hard, we get stuff done, we don’t make noise and we’ll get our (tower). But that’s not the case,” he said.

“We’re now in the position of asking patients to help us put pressure on the government to make sure this project goes through. I’m non-partisan. I don’t want to point fingers at anybody. I just want this project to go ahead.”

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said she respects the doctors’ desire to rally public sentiment, but noted she heard their concerns loud and clear during her December visit, which included a tour of the hospital.

“They need to do what they feel they need to do, but I don’t think there’s any way they could present their case more compellingly than they did,” MacDiarmid said.

“We’re looking carefully at the request and I’m very aware this needs to be done.”

Local politicians have complained that hospital projects in Vernon and Kamloops were funded ahead of the one at Penticton, which is at the top of Interior Health’s capital wish list, but those jobs were smaller or lent themselves to being done in phases, MacDiarmid explained.

Penticton’s project “is tricky because it’s a tower and you can’t really build a little bit of a tower."

Hospital expansion also came up at Monday’s city council meeting following a presentation on regional health care.

Mayor Dan Ashton was critical of Interior Health’s plan to centralize staff at a new Kelowna office tower that the authority has said will help it become more efficient and save on the cost of leasing office space at multiple sites.

And Coun. Wes Hopkin said it would be “a major letdown” and he would be “outraged” if funding for the hospital tower is not included in the provincial government’s next budget, expected later this month.

MacDiarmid doesn’t think the money will be there, since government officials are still in the process of vetting the tower’s business case.

“Maybe the (finance) minister’s going to surprise me,” she said, “but we have a really rigorous process we go through.”

The local hospital district and medical foundation have already pledged a total of $140 million for the new tower, leaving $160 million for senior governments to fund. As visioned, the tower will host a medical school, surgical suites and outpatient clinic.