Plummeting priority sees further delays for Westside health centre

A new Westside health centre appears to be tumbling down Interior Health’s priority list—if it even is a priority anymore.

In a presentation to West Kelowna council Tuesday, IH’s vice-president of community integration said the project is expected to be on a wish-list the health authority would like the province to fund over the next 10 years but he refused to say where on the list it will be, or even if it will be the standalone centre originally promised 4 1/2 years ago.

Andrew Neuner said that wish-list will not be finalized until the fall.

Last year, the Westside Urgent Health Centre had dropped to ninth on the IH’s list. Neuner said this year pressing needs for improvements at hospitals in Kamloops and Williams Lake will have to be added to the list, which could bump the plan for a Westside health care centre even further down.

Four years ago, when IH officials announced plans for the local centre, it was considered a top priority. But since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on additions to Kelowna General Hospital. The government said it wants to see more encompassing community care models used that involve more than just doctors in patient care.

As a result, it is unclear what, if anything, would be built here.

The original plan called for a multi-storey facility that would provide a myriad of health services, including ambulatory care and even day surgeries.

While not a hospital, it was considered the right fit for a growing area close to a major hospital and one that could meet the needs of the entire Westside, including Peachland.

But, with demands from other areas in the Interior Health Authority region, IH officials are now telling the municipality it should look to physicians and other health care professionals to band together and create their own health centre.

Based on a project currently used in the Parksville area of Vancouver Island, the approach would be a partnership that could, in Neuner’s words, operate out of “one storefront office or five storefront offices.”

Meanwhile, the province does not intend to sell off the property it bought for a reported $3.5 million for a new health centre at Butt and Elliott Roads in Westbank.

Mayor Doug Findlater said in a recent conversation with B.C. Health Minister Mike de Jong, it was made clear the province is not ready to unload the property. “That gives us some hope,” said Findlater.

Following the presentation by Neuner and IH coordinator of strategic initiatives Jamie Braman, Findlater said he was not surprised by what he heard.

He said it is the same line that the municipality has been given privately by both IH and the health ministry.

“But I wanted them to come here and say it publicly,” said the mayor.

While not publicly turning away from the Westside Urgent Health Centre plan, both Neuner and Barman made it clear other priorities will take precedence. So if West Kelowna wants some sort of a health centre, the municipality will likely have to facilitate discussions with doctors and other health care workers here itself.

Neuner said IH would participate but he urged council to act.

Findlater said it is clear nothing will happen for at least a year, so there is an opportunity for council if it wants to pay for such a plan. That would likely be left to 2012 when a new council will be in place.

According to IH, 37 per cent of the public currently use 83 per cent of health care resources, and the health authority has to find a way to deal with that.

One of the ways is to focus on prevention. And that, in turn, will limit the amount of money spent on “bricks and mortar” projects.

If prevention and other changes in how the province deals with health care are successful, that could mean buildings, such as the proposed health care centre, may not be needed to the same extent.

But, as West Kelowna councillors pointed out, with the changing demographics in this area, some facilities will still be required, albeit maybe not at the same level.

As for what will be on this year’s IH wish list, Braman said that has yet to be finalized.

Meanwhile, in the words of Coun. Rosalind Neis, all West Kelowna has is “a field with a fence around it.”



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