THE CHAIR of a group pushing for the construction of a new Mills Memorial Hospital is hoping some good old-fashioned people power will convince the provincial government to put the project on the fast track.
And chair Harry Nyce hopes that people power will come in the form of an online petition signed by northwestern B.C. residents.
The province isn’t committing itself yet to the construction of a new Mills to replace the current structure built in 1959, but it has now agreed to have health ministry officials meet with regional health care officials in early 2017.
That meeting is to flesh out what should be included in a business case study, a detailed planning document that would set out the cost of building a new Mills and the services it should provide. The study is a necessary step for Mills to making it on the provincial capital projects list.
Petitions don’t typically form part of planning meetings but Nyce says the province has to understand the importance a new Mills has to the northwest.
“This is really a regional project, the support we’re getting from leaders so far has been appreciated,” said Nyce.
He’s the chair of the North West Regional Hospital District which levies taxes for health care projects and takes in the area from Haida Gwaii to Houston.
Its representatives are drawn from municipalities and regional districts but the hospital district has now formed a committee to better separate its administrative function from its Mills construction advocacy.
“What we’re also looking for is First Nations support,” said Nyce in adding that the new committee can have a wide-reaching number of members.
The petition will also be presented to Premier Christy Clark, health minister Terry Lake and finance minister Mike de Jong.
It’s been Lake who for the past two years has been refusing to take up the hospital district’s offer to finance a Mills business plan, saying the province couldn’t yet commit itself to replacing Mills.
That was repeated by de Jong who toured the hospital in October accompanied by local officials and observed first hand the lack of washroom facilities for patients and cramped work areas for hospital workers.
But it was Clark who said later that the health ministry would be prepared to meet with local health care officials in the new year to discuss the steps needed for a business case study.
“As you know we’ve offered to pay for a study ourselves,” said Nyce in anticipation of getting the go-ahead following next year’s meeting with the health ministry.
Such a move is not without a precedent because the hospital district in 2011 paid the $2.74 million bill for the business plan for the just-opened hospital on Haida Gwaii.
The province then repaid the hospital district a portion of the cost.
The online petition at https://www.change.org/p/replace-mills-memorial-hospital also makes the case to classify a new Mills as a trauma centre, enabling it to handle patients who now have to be flown out for treatment.
“The nearest trauma centre is in Prince George, B.C. This means critically ill and injured residents may need to travel up to 14 hours to receive advanced care. The financial and emotional cost is high,” reads the petition.
“Clinical services are at risk of being compromised as new equipment needs more space and more power. Mechanical infrastructures are at full capacity,” it continues, apparently referring to the MRI to be installed and placed in service early next year.
But the Northern Health Authority has now given assurances that everything needed for the MRI will be provided.
“The commitment to the MRI in Terrace and the requirements to ensure it will be operational includes the required infrastructure to support its operation,” said Northern Health official Steve Raper.
“That work is part of the process of installation that takes place during the construction/development of the space in which it will go. Mills Memorial Hospital is an older facility but we have capital budgets for our facilities specifically for maintaining facilities and for necessary projects that ensure our hospitals function appropriately to service the needs of the population.”
The online petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/replace-mills-memorial-hospital