A politician warns there is no guarantee local taxpayers will fund a major health care expansion.
The provincial government has stated the North Okanagan-Columbia-Shuswap Regional Hospital District will support development of acute care beds at Vernon Jubilee Hospital. But Mike Macnabb, a NOCSRHD director, says there has been no commitment.
“There is an assumption the district would agree to it but it has to go to the board for a frank discussion,” said Macnabb.
Of the $29.6 million to complete two floors at VJH, $22 million is coming from the provincial government. Along with the hospital district, the government has stated the remaining $7.6 will come from the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation but that group has also not made a decision yet.
Macnabb isn’t sure exactly what Victoria wants the hospital district to contribute, but he points out that local property taxes paid the entire cost — $10 million — for shelling-in the two floors so they were available for future development.
“We can’t bankrupt the taxpayer. There is a limit,” he said.
“We have to get the government to control costs instead of just escalating them.”
Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, won’t speculate on what will happen if NOCSRHD doesn’t participate or provides funds less than expected.
“We will have to cross that bridge if we come to it,” he said.
The lack of full government funding for the beds has raised criticism from the B.C. Conservatives.
““Health care is a provincial responsibility,” said Scott Anderson, Vernon-Monashee Conservative candidate.
“This is a colossal downloading of costs on to municipalities.”
But Foster says regional hospital districts have traditionally funded capital projects.
“They (Conservatives) have to remember that there is only one taxpayer, whether it is the hospital district or the province,” he said.
Of the 60 beds designated for the two floors, 14 will be new and the rest will be from existing wards.
Once the project is done in 2015, the total number of beds at VJH will increase from 148 to 162.
“Unfortunately this looks more like the shuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Tracy Quewezance, with the B.C. Nurses Union, adding that 192 admitted patients has been a common situation.
“Nurses are very concerned that at least 30 more beds are needed as the facility has been running 130 per cent overcapacity.”
Foster is aware of the nurses’ concerns.
“Thirty beds would be nice but 14 is where we’re starting right now. One of the issues is you have to be able to fund those beds,” he said.
Foster added that residential care beds are also being constructed in the community and that will free up acute care beds at VJH.