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Perrino vows to keeps pressure on for Penticton hospital expansion

New hospital towers in Vernon and Kelowna have officials in Penticton feeling a little envious.
A conceptual drawing of what Penticton's new hospital tower might look like

New hospital towers in Vernon and Kelowna have officials in Penticton feeling a little envious.

Plans are in the works for a new four-story, $300-million patient care tower at Penticton Regional Hospital, but the B.C. government has yet to commit to funding it. Janice Perrino, chair of the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District, has vowed to keep the heat on until the dollars are dispatched.

“We want to be as positive as we can, but we also want to be very insistent with the Ministry of Health that we are in dire need of an expansion,” Perrino said.

Last week, she had colleagues at the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen agree to write a letter to government staff and local MLAs asking them to affirm and prioritize their commitment to the new tower and a five-story parkade beside it.

“We need to make sure that we’re always just in their thought processes,” said Perrino.

The hospital district has already spent $700,000 on a conceptual plan for the tower, which includes: a medical school in the basement; surgical suites, outpatient clinics and an oncology centre on the middle floors; and a helipad on the roof.

“It’s three times the size of what Penticton Regional is today,” said Perrino. “It’s huge.”

PRH is “grossly under-sized” and routinely operates at 110 per cent of capacity, Perrino added, and it will only get busier with aging baby boomers and the influx of workers expected at the new jail in Oliver.

Still, the hospital does well with the space it has, said Allan Sinclair, Interior Health’s vice-president of acute services.

“People really lose sight of the fact that Penticton is our most efficient hospital,” he said. But, “in order to keep them on top, we have to give them appropriate physical space.”

The tower, Sinclair noted, was the top-ranked item on the major capital project wish-list that IH submitted this year to the Ministry of Health.

Perrino said the hospital district, through the RDOS, has committed to funding 40 per cent of the cost of the new tower through its reserves, expected to hit $23.7 million this year, and borrowing.

The other 60 per cent would come from the province, although the Health Ministry remained non-committal in a statement to the Western News.

“The ministry must consider the requests from one health authority with similar requests from all health authorities across the province,” it read in part.

“While one health authority ranks a project high on their priority list, that same project may not have the same ranking in the ministry’s plan when all factors are considered.”

The statement goes on to say the ministry has spent $1.5 billion on health-care capital projects around the B.C. Interior in the past decade, although just $10.5 million of that went to PRH.

Major dollar were, however, spent at Kelowna General Hospital, where an expansion that’s nearing completion includes the new Centennial Patient Care Tower and a heart-surgery centre.

Meanwhile, the province just approved funding to complete the top two floors of the new Polson Tower at Vernon Jubilee Hospital. Total costs at both sites have been pegged at about $900 million.