MLA Update: Caucus visit to Penticton, new hospital announced

MLA Dan Ashton column delving into summer events in the area and the Penticton Regional Hospital announcement.

As MLA for the riding of Penticton, one of my goals this summer was to invite as many of my caucus colleagues from the BC Legislature as possible to come and visit our region.

In late July, these efforts paid off as the entire cabinet came to Penticton and spent a number of days in our area. From my experience, elected officials have a much better understanding of an issue or challenge when they can meet in person to view and discuss it on a first-hand basis. This visit was significant, as organizations such as the Kettle Valley Railway Society, Challenge Penticton Triathlon and many others have been successful in securing our government’s support. It is also important to demonstrate the value of ongoing provincial support for events that are special to our region, like the 64th annual Penticton Peach Festival. On that note, please join me in extending a very sincere thank-you to the many volunteers and sponsors who give so very generously to put on a world-class family event.

In a speech to the Chamber of Commerce while in Penticton, Premier Christy Clark announced that our Penticton Regional Hospital expansion project will be built, an announcement that has been extremely well-received by our community. Some have questioned why it took so long to get this point, and that is a topic I would like to comment on. It is the Ministry of Health’s responsibility to critically review health authority capital project proposals, ensuring the correct mix of services and capacity. Proposals include hospital redevelopment, new facilities, equipment, new programs and program redesigns.

The Ministry must consider the requests from one health authority with similar requests from all health authorities across the province. The Ministry must balance those requests with the regional need, capital and operating costs, other provincial capital funding requests and the reality of our fiscal situation. 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.

As the provincial election approached, credit must go to the medical community, specifically doctors, who mobilized a campaign along with the public to ensure the Penticton Hospital expansion became an election issue for our region. I viewed this as a positive development, as one of the more significant reasons why I put my name forward in the provincial election was the need to ensure this expansion became a reality. My previous experience as both mayor and city councillor, including times spent as the RDOS chair, was invaluable in understanding the critical importance of the facility to the future of our entire region.

For the past year since being elected, I have been fortunate to sit on Treasury Board. If there is one lesson I have learned from local government construction and capital projects, it is that they are extremely costly. Once construction begins, it can be more cost-effective to plan not just for the needs of today but also the needs of tomorrow. I’m proud to say this has been taken into consideration with the Penticton Hospital expansion project. What will be built is above and beyond the scope of what was originally proposed. The new patient care tower will be close to 290,000 square feet of new health care space, built in two phases. The tower will feature a new walk-in care centre, a surgical services centre, and 84 medical/surgical inpatient beds in single patient rooms. Once this is complete, the second phase will see the renovation of vacated areas in the current hospital to expand the ER to a space nearly four times larger. In all, this will be a $325 million project.

While communities are eager to see new medical facilities, this is another reason why the process often takes longer than most people expect. We don’t just want to build it; we want to build it right, taking into consideration the needs of our future population.

There are many individuals who deserve mention but ultimately, it is the citizens of our region who deserve credit for this project. It is something citizens spoke loudly in support of, and voted for, as this was a commitment that our government promised to deliver on. It was a promise made, and a promise that will be kept.

Dan Ashton

MLA for Penticton