Not that it is ever long out of the news, but the proposed expansion to Penticton Regional Hospital is making headlines once again.
This time, it’s because Terry Lake, newly-minted health minister, made some incautious remarks about the promised Patient Care Tower not happening in this term of the government.
Lake later corrected himself, saying he meant the expansion wouldn’t be finished this term, but the damage was done and people once again questioned the province’s commitment to the long awaited project, as well as the length of time it will take.
It has to go through the process, Lake and others have said. True, the last thing anyone wants is to rush the design and building of the expansion and end up with something that is inadequate to present or future needs.
But the notional cost, as Lake puts it, is already some $300 million. If work on the tower was begun when it was first proposed, it might have been built for one-third of the cost. Every year that passes, while Penticton was passed over again and again, and now, while it goes through the process, adds more to the cost.
The hospital, according to best estimates, could take up to five years to build. Added to the minimum two years Lake is suggesting before shovels are in the ground, and the region is looking at seven years before the doors open on the new patient care tower.
Much of the foundation planning is already complete though the detailed design is not something that can be rushed. But the government side of the process, the treasury board approval and other red tape could be fast-tracked.
Penticton and the South Okanagan have waited long enough. If the province really wants to assure the South Okanagan they are committed to the hospital expansion, it needs to take steps to ensure funding to get started on the real work is in next year’s budget.