BY BILL PHILLIPS
For those hoping Adrian Dix was going to make an announcement about the new surgical tower for the University Hospital of Northern B.C. Friday, they were disappointed.
The health minister was in town to announce new increased hip and knee replacement surgeries in the North. When pressed, he said the proposed surgical tower project is working its way through the process and that he wasn’t about to make any announcements before it was time.
The process for building such a large capital project, likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars, involves developing a site plan in the community. That is followed by the development of a concept plan. Once a concept plan is approved, which means there is money in the budget, a business plan is developed, the project goes to tender and building begins.
Almost a year ago to the day, MLAs Shirley Bond and Mike Morris announced, amidst a flurry of pre-election announcements, that the surgical tower proposal was going to the concept plan stage.
Dix said the concept plan was received by the ministry in December, way too late for this year’s budget deliberations. Ministry staff, he said, is working on the project.
Dix also pointed out that the new surgical tower for Prince George has to be weighed against other projects contemplated, and already approved, in northern B.C.
“The previous government did built lots of hospitals in the North,” he said. “They built one in Prince Rupert, they built one in Fort St. John … The fact of the matter most of the hospitals are like (UHNBC). (The entrance is new), it doesn’t feel like 1952 here, it does in the OR.”
Dawson Creek hospital was built in 1960, Mills Memorial in Terrace was built in 1959. The Stewart Lake Hospital in Fort St. James was built in 1972, but was only supposed to last for 25 years. G.R. Baker Hospital in Quesnel is also old and Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake was built in 1964.
“Simply put, over time, we have to bring all of those hospitals into the 21st Century, and that takes time,” he said.
He pointed to the Mills Memorial Hospital, which submitted its concept plan in 2014 under the Liberal government but the business plan wasn’t approved until this year under the NDP government.
“That’s been a four-year wait from concept plan to approval,” he said. “We believe we need to shorten that time.”
Williams Lake was also approved for replacement.
“They had very high priorities, they’re crucial hospitals,” he said.
He added that when the NDP formed government last July and Dix was named minister, there was no concept plan for the Prince George surgical tower. That concept plan has now been delivered to the ministry.
“I visited the operating rooms here when I was health critic 10 years ago,” he said. “They were inadequate then, and they’re inadequate now. So, I’m aware of that … The project is a high priority. What I’m not going to do, what I’m not ever going to do, is make an announcement before something is ready to be made.”