Doctors at the Penticton Regional Hospital are asking people in their community to demand that the government provide funding for a major hospital project.
The proposal to build a $300-million patient tower at the outdated Penticton Regional Hospital is ranked as the top priority of the Interior Health Authority – the regional body in charge of delivering health care – but the project has yet to receive funding from the provincial Health Ministry, while two other major projects at IHA hospitals have.
"We are hoping they [the public] will write the people in power. We are hoping that they can motivate the government to make the appropriate decision to go ahead with this project," said David Paisley, who speaks on behalf of the hospital's medical staff society. "We have lobbied them [the government] through the usual channels and have been ignored, told that there is no money for the project, but we see other hospitals get their funding who were lower on the priority list as was assessed by Interior Health."
B.C. Minister of Health Margaret MacDiarmid told The Globe and Mail that the government understands how vital the project is to the community, but says it has yet to receive funding because it can't be broken up into smaller phases, unlike the two other IHA hospital projects that have received funding.
"I asked the ministry capital division if there was a way to do Penticton in sessions, and unfortunately the project doesn't lend itself to it," she said. "It is a new tower and once we put it into our budget, we have to put all the dollars in our budget."
The Penticton Regional Hospital was built in the early 1950s for a population of 10,000, Dr. Paisley says, but now serves a region of nearly 90,000.
He says specialists at the hospital are forced to use facilities not intended for modern procedures. Colonoscopies and bronchoscopies are often performed in rooms so small that technicians and doctors have to turn patient gurneys diagonally to reach equipment.
"If there are any complications, that could put patients at risk because they [doctors] don't have the space to do resuscitation as a team."
There is also a bed shortage, he added, and patients who have already been treated by a physician are often left waiting in the corridors and waiting rooms of the hospital before they are transferred to another ward.
The new tower is intended to provide the hospital with modern facilities while centralizing clinical procedures, reducing the length of patient stays.
The areas where procedures are performed could be repurposed for more beds, Dr. Paisley says.
He says that the government would now need to invest only $160-million in the project because the hospital has been able to generate capital through donations and fundraising.
Ms. MacDiarmid said the government is spending "a tremendous amount" on health and is not in the position to make the entire investment into the Penticton project.
In July, the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops received $80-million for a new parkade, new outpatient services buildings and medical teaching space, phase one of a larger long-term renewal project.
The Vernon Jubilee Hospital received $22-million for a new inpatient ward. Both projects are ranked lower on the IHA priority list than the Penticton project.
Ms. MacDiarmid did say the Penticton project will eventually be approved, but said she wants to be careful about setting timelines.
She says a visit to Penticton in November has given her a clear understanding of why the project is a priority.
"They were very articulate about their working conditions, and how old the hospital is and their demands," she said. "They've got some spaces that are very difficult, some long distance their patients have to navigate … but I don't know what more they can do to make me more aware of how important this is."
On Wednesday night, the Penticton Medical Society held a community meeting to help gain more public support for immediate action on the project.
"We feel like we've been shortchanged," said Dr. Paisley. "We need a groundswell from the community to speak out in support of the project."