Health Minister Michael de Jong insists resolving overcrowding at Vernon Jubilee Hospital is a priority but there’s no timeline for new beds.
The ministry continues to review options to reduce capacity, including possibly opening acute care beds in two shelled-in floors in the new tower.
“The number one priority is that patients in Vernon and the surrounding area receive the highest quality care possible. We understand there are pressures,” de Jong told The Morning Star.
VJH is funded for 148 acute care beds but on average, there are 165 patients daily. As a result, patients are placed in hallways and surgeries have been cancelled.
De Jong, who was in Vernon in April, says that besides acute care beds, there is also a need to look at long-term and residential care.
“I’m expecting a comprehensive list of options,” he said of the review being done by his staff.
However, de Jong would not give a specific date as to when a decision may be made and he points out that there are other factors besides construction costs.
“We have to find the money to staff the beds.”
It’s estimated that it could cost about $10 million to complete each of the shelled-in floors and then $10 million each annually to operate the floors (with 30 beds each).
De Jong is aware of the petitions and the recent public rally demanding the two floors be opened.
“It’s exactly what you would expect from a community that has a history of being as connected as Vernon has been,” he said.
“People care about their hospital.”
De Jong also has praise for Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster’s lobbying efforts.
“He’s been tenacious on a daily basis,” said de Jong.
But while he admits there are challenges at VJH, de Jong points to the $180 million patient care tower.
“It’s one of the largest capital investments in health care in the province,” he said.
“People acknowledge the government has taken efforts to address the pressure.”
In May, NDP leader Adrian Dix visited Vernon and blasted the Liberal government over VJH.
“The issues haven’t been addressed for a long time because the Liberals take the Okanagan for granted,” said Dix.
“How does it make sense to cut taxes for large corporations but you can’t fund basic services?”
De Jong is quick to dismiss Dix’s comments.
“For Mr. Dix to suggest the government hasn’t been addressing the pressures within the financial pressures it faces is purely politicking,” he said.