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WFN moves forward on health facility

Ground could be broken on a privately funded—first of its kind in Canada—medical facility on WFN land as early as this year.

Westbank First Nation Chief Robert Louie said that the project is "certainly moving in the right direction."

"It's not called a private hospital; although, I'd like to call it a private hospital. It's actually a medical wellness centre that focuses on specialized care," said WFN Chief Robert Louie.

Louie said that the facility will focus on all medical services except emergency, obstetrics and psychiatric care.

"Everything else we think can be accommodated with what we're doing."

Louie said that there is a significant need for the medical wellness centre, locally, regionally and nationally.

"We're looking at addressing things like the First Nation health gap—closing the gap that exists.

"Our intent is to focus locally and throughout the province, (but) I think there's an opportunity to address the health gap with other provinces as well."

Money that will be spent at a facility like this is currently being spent abroad, said Louie.

"We know there are billions of dollars that go out of Canada every year.

"People are frustrated with the long waits (for) getting things like hip replacements or heart surgeries. They're going to Mayo Clinic, they're going to John Hopkins, they're going to, in some cases, India or Thailand.

"We think that instead of having all these dollars go out of the country—keep it here."

According to Louie, development of this type of facility will have several advantages.

"If what we're proposing goes ahead, not only will it put the Westside on the map nationally, I think the whole Okanagan valley is going to see a benefit."

He added that "hundreds of jobs" will become available and the local economy will be stimulated.

Louie said the cost of the WFN medical wellness centre is "in excess of $100 million."

When asked whether or not only the wealthy will be able to afford the new facility's services, Louie said, "I'm not going to kid you, it's directed (at) those who can afford the services.

"When we talk about First Nations, there are many that can't afford the service. . .that's definitely an issue that we're trying to address.

"But it has to be able to cover its own costs without having to rely on a federal or provincial injection of money."

WFN is optimistic that construction on the facility will begin at some point in 2012.

Louie was hesitant to get into too many details on the project; however, he noted that WFN has identified an appropriate site for the facility that is "close to the WFN offices."

"I hope to have some announcements as the months go by."

wpaterson@kelownacapnews.com

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