Update: Penticton hospital boosters shrug off new funding for Kamloops

Politicians doubt hospital cash committed there will hurt chances of expansion here, even as ministry remains quiet on plans

Conceptual drawing of a new patient care tower at Penticton Regional Hospital.

Conceptual drawing of a new patient care tower at Penticton Regional Hospital.

Those pushing for a $300-million expansion of Penticton Regional Hospital remain optimistic, despite Wednesday’s announcement of partial government funding for a similar project in Kamloops.

“Doesn’t bother me at all,” said Janice Perrino, chair of the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District.

Perrino has been spearheading a push to build a new patient care tower and parkade at PRH, and met with Health Minister Mike de Jong just two weeks ago to make her case.

It’s unclear how the Kamloops announcement might change the game.

“This may not be necessarily bad news for anybody else,” Perrino said. “What it could be is a big Band-Aid on some serious problems that they have” at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday that the B.C. government would share the cost of an $80-million redevelopment of RIH with their hospital district.

The project includes construction of a new clinical services building and additional parking, and is the first phase of a proposed $400-million overhaul.

Interior Health has said previously that the PRH expansion was at the top of its major capital wish list, while the RIH job was third.

However, Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton warned in June that MLAs in Kamloops had been lobbying behind the scenes to have their hospital given priority.

His warning may have fallen on deaf ears, but  he remains hopeful.

“I don’t think it hurts us at all. It’s actually good,” Ashton said.

“If the premier announced that now, that should satisfy, hopefully, Kamloops’ needs, and then we should be there. Ours is such a major renovation that hopefully it’s next in line.”

Health ministry spokesman Stephen May said in a statement that the rankings on Interior Health’s wish list matter, but don’t entirely decide where money goes.

“The ministry must consider all capital requests in the context of priorities. The ministry must also balance those requests with the regional need, capital and operating costs, other provincial capital funding requests and the reality of our fiscal situation,” May said.

He remained non-committal on the Penticton project: “We will continue to work with Interior Health on the plans to upgrade Penticton Regional Hospital and to improve patient care in the South Okanagan.”

Despite those assurances, Perrino said politics could also play a part in funding decisions as next provincial election, slated for 2013,  draws near.

“We’re getting into that silly season,” she said.

“This is part of what happens when an election is coming up.”

The plan for PRH expansion calls for a four-story patient care tower that would host a medical school, surgical suites, outpatient clinics and an oncology centre, plus a new five-story parkade nearby.

So far, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has committed $120 million to the build, while the local hospital foundation has pledged $20 million, leaving a $160-million funding gap.

Perrino said 60-year-old PRH routinely operates at 110 per cent of capacity, and that the expansion would be the highest-value development ever seen in the South Okanagan.