Construction of WFN private hospital to begin in October
Ground will be broken on Canada's first-of-its-kind private hospital in two months.
Referring to the facility as Okanagan Integrated Medical Centre, Westbank First Nation Chief Robert Louie said construction on the estimated $125-million luxury hospital will take 26 months; therefore, the medical centre will likely open in late 2015 or early 2016.
"All the work is being done to get this medical centre up and running," said Louie.
"We have a lot of partnerships—close to several hundred millions of dollars at stake here."
The proposed 100-bed, 200,000 square-foot private health facility will focus on all medical services except emergency, obstetrics and psychiatric care. The target patients are foreign medical tourists, as well as Canadians who would otherwise leave the country to receive expedited private health care.
It will be built northeast of the band office on the south side of Highway 97.
"We're basically meeting daily, around the clock…to get the right people involved so that this goes without flaws," said Louie.
"It's going to be first-class when it's up and running. We're going to have some of the most professional people in the world involved with this facility…we're not looking at having mistakes made."
Part of that strategy may involve a partnership with a reputable entity such as Johns Hopkins Medicine International.
Currently, Johns Hopkins Medicine International has branches in five continents, including Medcan Clinic in Toronto, which has over 30,000 clients and focuses on prevention through early detection of health risks before symptoms occur.
Last year, Gary Stephenson—former director of media relations and public affairs—confirmed Johns Hopkins international sector had begun talks with WFN regarding the private facility.
Stephanie Desmon, senior media relations representative with John Hopkins Medicine, issued a statement to Capital News Wednesday that indicated those discussions are still in a "preliminary" stage.
"Officials from Johns Hopkins Medicine International and their counterparts at Westbank First Nation and Ad Vitam Healthcare Ltd. are in preliminary discussions regarding Lake Okanagan Integrated Wellness Centre in Kelowna, British Columbia. These discussions are ongoing and it is premature to comment on or speculate on the outcome or specifics of these talks. If and when any definitive agreements are signed, appropriate announcements will be made," stated Desmon.
Although an official agreement has yet to be made, Louie said he is confident Johns Hopkins Medicine International will be a part of the project.
"I'm anticipating that the formalized agreement will take place, but it's premature for me to say that it's been definitively done. Everything looks strong for that to happen," said Louie.
Since the plans were announced in April 2012, there has been back and forth debate whether or not the private hospital will be legally challenged.
Louie contends self-governance allows WFN to build the centre without provincial interference.
Last year Gordon Christie, an associate professor with the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Law, told several media outlets he expects the federal government will step in and challenge the concept in the courts.
He did, however, admit this type of facility is treading in untested waters; therefore, it's impossible to predict the outcome.
In an interview last year, Alan Davidson, an assistant professor of health studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, told Capital News he didn't believe the private facility would violate the Canada Health Act.
"The Canada Health Act is really just a vehicle for regulating the funding relationships between the federal governments and the provinces," Davidson said in April 2012.
"It's not a matter of what's legal and what's illegal. The federal government does not have the authority to determine what health care services are lawful or unlawful because health care in Canada is a provincial responsibility—so the Canada Health Act is kind of a red herring."
Capital News attempted to reach Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas for comment Wednesday; however, he is currently away on vacation.
Last year, Albas said he was unaware whether or not WFN's plans would violate the Canada Health Act.
"To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a First Nation's committee has announced a project to this kind of magnitude," Albas said in April 2012.
Former Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart called the proposal "a bold move" when he learned of the plans last year.
"I think the federal government needs to be thoughtful when they're considering what the impacts are going to be."
Louie said he doesn't expect the federal government will take issue with the proposed private health facility. He noted "hundreds of thousands of dollars" has been spent on legal advice and analysis.
"We've done a huge amount of homework getting ready for this," said Louie.
"I'm not going to say that there won't be a challenge, but if there is, I think our homework will prevail."
"We see this as being something that's so positive…that it will just overwhelm any negativity that might revolve around this."
Louie anticipates 400 jobs will be created through Okanagan Integrated Medical Centre's first phase. Eventually, he hopes "thousands of jobs" will be created thanks to the private hospital.
"We have so much interest in the medical field now that we're going to see a snowball effect, I believe.
"I see this growing in very significantly layers. It's definitely going to transform the job situation here dramatically."
The proposed medical centre is a major reason Louie is seeking re-election in the Aug. 30 WFN election.
"It's very clear that we need a leader here that can be intimately involved; I've been intimately involved in this project since its inception."
He added more announcements regarding the private medical facility will likely be made next month.