Health minister’s comments confuse Penticton hospital boosters

Proponent worried remarks to radio interviewer may have been misinterpreted as signalling withdrawal of government support

B.C.’s health minister set tongues wagging Thursday when he told a radio interviewer a new tower at Penticton Regional Hospital would not be built in the next four years.

Terry Lake made the comment during an interview on CBC Daybreak South in response to a question about how soon the Liberals would get the job done.

“Not in our current four-year term,” Lake replied, “and I don’t think anyone has committed to having a hospital (tower) built in Penticton in the four-year term.

“What we’ve said … is that we are committed to a new hospital (tower) in Penticton, and we have to go through stages.”

Janice Perrino, who chairs the board of the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District, said Lake’s response had been misinterpreted to mean the government had backed away from its promise to build the tower.

“What he’s saying is technically very true. It’s going to take five years just to get the building built, so it won’t be done during this term because it can’t physically be done,” Perrino told the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen at its Thursday meeting.

“It’s very conceivable that it could take up to six years to get it built, just to get the doors open, so I don’t know that anything he said this morning could be perceived as negative.”

Health Ministry spokesperson Ryan Jabs said in a statement that Lake’s comments did not signal any sort of change with respect to support for the tower.

“A new patient tower at Penticton Hospital is a priority for the community and we’ve made it clear that it’s a priority for this government,” Jabs said.

He said the tower, like any major capital project, requires careful planning to ensure it’s designed and built appropriately for the least cost possible and without interruption to patient care.

“A new hospital is not something that can be built overnight. We need to make sure that a plan is in place and that the new facility will serve the population well into the future,” Jabs said.

Earlier this month, Interior Health issued a request for proposals for help putting together the tower’s business case.

Bid documents indicated the business case should be ready by January 2014, with a funding commitment from the B.C. government anticipated in May 2014. Construction would then begin in fall 2015, according to a preliminary schedule.

The four-storey tower is projected to cost $300-million and provide 37,000 square metres for outpatient services like an oncology department and surgical suites. The B.C. government has been asked to cover $160 million of the cost.