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Province approves $600-700M concept plan for UHNBC surgical tower

Health Minister Adrian Dix
Health Minister Adrian Dix

A concept plan for a $600-$700 million surgical tower for University Hospital of Northern B.C. has been approved.

Amid a flurry of announcements which many speculate are pre-election goodies, this announcement is significant, says Health Minister Adrian Dix, in that once provincial health projects get to the concept stage they rarely, if ever, are not completed.

“The province and Treasury Board this summer approved a concept plan for a new patient care tower, including a new cardiac care unit, at the University Hospital of Northern B.C.,” Dix said in a conference call with reporters Sunday afternoon.

Dix said the population of northern B.C. is expected to increase by eight per cent in the next 15 years. However, the population of seniors is expected to increase by 66 per cent over the same 15 years. That means services and facilities need to be upgraded to meet that challenge.

“If we’re going to ask health care providers to do what we’re asking them to right now, which is increase the capacity and our ability to do more, and more complex surgeries, we need 21st Century equipment,” Dix said.

There are three basic components to the upgrades. The first is increased surgical capacity.

The second involves an increase to the number of beds and facilities for mental health and addictions services, which will be in the new tower. The third is a cardiac unit.

“There is no standalone cardiac unit at UHNBC,” he said. “Services are dispersed between different departments … there’s currently no invasive interventional cardiological unit at UHNBC. … That will change with this proposal.”

The new tower will be constructed on the existing UHNBC site and be connected by a tunnel and footbridge to the existing hospital. It will add 99 beds to UHNBC.

While the concept plan has been approved, it will likely be a couple of years before construction actually begins. The next step is to develop a business plan for the project, which should take a year to 18 months to complete, then design stage, then there is a request for qualifications, which is then followed by a bidding process and then building starts.

“The good news for everyone in Prince George is that we’re starting,” said Dix.

The project was first suggested on the eve of the 2017 election by MLAs Shirley Bond and Mike Morris. Dix said that, at that time, there wasn’t a concept plan in place. Northern Health submitted a concept plan in late 2017, which, Dix said in 2018, was too late for that year’s budget deliberations.

Dix also dismissed suggestions that this is a pre-election announcement as it has been going through the process over the past few years.

“Others in the government get to think about things like elections,” he said. “What I really focus on is bringing into the 21st Century our key health care facilities in the province.”

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