West Kelowna Residents' Association to host urgent care centre forum

Joe Lavigne, president of the West Kelowna Residents
Joe Lavigne, president of the West Kelowna Residents' Association (right) talks to Ron Green, chairman of the association's health and safety subcommittee at the site of the proposed Westside urgent care centre.
— image credit: Douglas Farrow / Contributor

The West Kelowna Residents' Association is refusing to let the issue of bringing an urgent care facility to the Westside be pushed to the back burner.

The group will host a forum to provide members of the public with a means to express their opinion on the urgent care centre situation. The meeting will be held on Jan. 12, at 7 p.m. in the Westbank Lions Community Centre.

"The purpose for the meeting is to give the Westside residents an outline of what has happened, the demographics and why an urgent care centre is needed on the Westside," said West Kelowna Residents' Association president, Joe Lavigne.

According to Lavigne, at one point the Interior Health Authority had funds in place for the design of the urgent care facility before the plan suddenly died. He said that the reason was never completely clear as to why the urgent care centre's priority became less urgent.

"We never got a clear answer on that from politicians. There was money in the budget for the design of a facility, and about a month later, the money vanished.

"My analogy is, you went to the bank, you stood in line, you got to the counter, it was your turn and they said, 'Sorry, the guy before you overdrew his account, we had to take it from yours. Not only did we do that, we're going to ask you to go back to the back of the line.'

"We don't want to be at the back of the line."

The argument that there is not money in the budget is one that frustrates Lavigne.

"We have two projects that come to mind, one is the interchange at (over) $40 million, the other is the redesign of the highway from Winfield to Oyama. (Neither of) which are entirely life or death issues.

"We're looking at between $10 and 20 million for an urgent care centre and they tell us there is no money. I think their priorities are in the wrong place."

Lavigne said that a centre would benefit close to 50,000 residents, nothing that citizens in Peachland and other outlying areas would use the facility.

The WKRA president added that this area is home to one of the oldest populations in Canada and suggested that likely 20 per cent of West Kelowna's population is over 65-years-old.

"If you take 20 per cent over the age of 65, and you do not have any first response on this side of the bridge, and to funnel all of that traffic to KGH (Kelowna General Hospital), it really doesn't make sense."

Lavigne said that an urgent care centre in West Kelowna would also benefit the neighbours east of the bridge because it would take pressure off of KGH, which Lavigne said is often “overcrowded.”

Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart and Dr. Robert Halpenny, president and CEO of the Interior Health Authority, will be attending the meeting to discuss the issue and hear the concerns of residents.

The meeting will commence with a 15 minute presentation by Ron Green, chairman of the health and safety subcommittee, outlining the growing needs for an urgent care centre, population trends on the Westside, design and staffing of a proposed centre and some statistics from IHA, which support the proposal.

Members of the public are encouraged to participate in the meeting by preparing written questions, which can be handed in at the door to a WKRA representative. Those questions will be posed to Stewart, who will either answer them directly or invite Dr. Halpenny to respond.

"This isn't necessarily a forum to put MLA Ben Stewart or the CEO of IHA on the hot seat. This is to gather information and to show support from Westside residents, to our elected officials, that we're serious about a facility on this side. The population is expanding, not contracting; the need hasn't gone away."

The District of West Kelowna council has shown constant support for an urgent care centre. In late September, 2011, at the Union of B. C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver, district representatives spoke with minister of health Michael de Jong to reiterate West Kelowna's interest in establishing an urgent care facility on the Westside.

"West Kelowna has been lobbying for an urgent care facility for years and Interior Health has earmarked land in our community for this purpose," said Mayor Doug Findlater in September.

"We are definitely not going to stop asking for this service, even through we've been repeatedly told that capital funds are not available for this."

Lavigne said that he is happy that local government is pushing for the centre; however, their ability to influence change is limited.

"Local government's hands are really tied. They can voice their support, but they're not the ones making the decisions," said Lavigne.

"We're going to get our MLA out and we're going to ask questions and give him the ammunition so he can go back to the caucus and let them know that there's a community in central B.C. that is wanting to see some action when it comes to providing them with a facility for healthcare."

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