Overcrowding clouds opening

Celebrations at Vernon Jubilee Hospital were overshadowed by a perceived crisis in care.

Celebrations at Vernon Jubilee Hospital were overshadowed by a perceived crisis in care.

Health Minister Michael de Jong couldn’t avoid the issue of overcrowding as he officially opened the new $180 million Polson tower Thursday.

“You have made it clear that there are capacity issues and we are working to try and address them,” he told a crowd that included nurses, doctors and residents who have been lobbying for acute care beds.

“Your MLA and the government are aware of the challenge and we will do everything we can to address the challenge.”

VJH is funded for 148 acute care beds but on average, there are 164 patients daily.  As a result, patients have been placed in hallways and surgeries have been cancelled.

De Jong pointed out that finances are tight for the government, and he suggested that an announcement on completing the two shelled-in floors for beds may wait until early in 2012.

“You have ensured in the near future that I will be coming back,” he said, referring to rallies, letters  and petitions.

De Jong’s comments didn’t go over well with some in the crowd.

“I’m not sure how much longer nurses can continue to work under these conditions,” said B.C., Nurses Union representative Christine Sorensen of patients being placed in halls and cancelled surgeries.

“The facility is already over-capacity and we still have to wait more months.”

Darrel Stinson, a former MP who spoke at a recent rally demanding beds, was upset de Jong didn’t guarantee funding Thursday.

“It’s the same old crap. They have places they can take the funds from,” said Stinson.

“They’re not too concerned about what’s going on here.”

The 16,815-square-metre Polson tower began accepting patients Sept. 25. It includes intensive and coronary care, ambulatory and outpatient clinics, new ambulance space, central sterilization and women’s and children’s services.

“This building is impressive but the building is ultimately a collection of material,” said de Jong. “The heart and soul of the building are the people who work in it. It’s them who give the hospital the unique place in the hearts of the people of this region.”

Among the dignitaries at Thursday ceremony were Martin and Mary Niedballa, the parents of Amelia, the first baby born in the tower.

Mary’s due date coincided with moving day into the tower. During routine visits to VJH, Mary kept an eye on a digital clock that did the official countdown until the tower opened.

“Every time I saw it, it was for my baby,” she said of the possibility of delivering in the structure. “The nurses were really tremendous and I want to thank them for making the transition smooth.”