Campaign to build Westside health centre losing steam

Urgent care centre for Westbank is now way down the IHA priority list.

It used to be a top priority, but hopes for the Westside urgent care centre appear to be fading fast.

Following a recent meeting between West Kelowna and Interior Health Authority officials, it has been revealed plans for the centre, which would have provided health care services here such as day surgery, is not likely to be built anytime soon.

The new, two-storey building was to have been built on land IHA bought for $3.45 million at the corner of Brown and Bering Roads in Westbank. The site is currently fenced off and vacant.

According to a report from Mayor Doug Findlater, who attended the meeting, current projections show the centre may not be built for another 10 years. In the meantime other projects could supersede it.

Findlater said given the investment in health care recently in Kelowna and Vernon, other areas like Kamloops, the Thompson, Cariboo and Shuswap are all making their requests for more facilities strongly known.

“It is fair to say that the Westside Urgent Care Centre is on the (priority) list but well down it and will not move noticeably upward in the current financial and political reality,” said Findlater in his report.

Findlater and two of his councillors, Rosalind Neis and David Knowles, were shown the list and financial figures by Interior Health CEO Dr. Robert Halpenny at the meeting.

“We were shown some financial figures and a priorities list, however, IHA has asked that they remain confidential for now,” added Findlater.

The mayor said despite close to $1 billion being invested in the Kelowna and Vernon hospitals in recent years, the IHA faces a “capital challenge,” and has very limited funding for what he described as bricks and mortar capital projects in the foreseeable future.

The province wants to keep any health care spending budget increase to four per cent in the long-term, instead of the projected growth of six per cent. So the news appears to dash hopes of the promised health care centre in West Kelowna.

Interior Health had announced in 2009 that it planned to build the 4,400-square-metre facility on the land it bought from former Kelowna mayor Walter Gray and his business partners.

The centre, while not a full hospital, was expected to address many of the urgent health care  needs on the west side of the lake.

The site for the centre needed to be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve, but the commission that oversees the reserve allowed only half of it to be used for the proposed health centre.

The IHA says it plans to keep the land.

Last month, local MLA Ben Stewart said he planned to start holding a series of public meetings to gather input from his constituents about what they want him to lobby for in the Westside-Kelowna riding.

His first meeting, he said, would be held this month and would focus on health care facilities.

“If I am a senior, I would like to have the (Westside) urgent care centre being built right now,” he told the Capital News.

Stewart said he had spoken to Interior Health officials and was told the centre was still a priority and would be built, but no time frame was given.

In his report to council, Findlater said despite the apparent setback, West Kelowna should continue to lobby for the centre, saying it is clear that community lobbying could make a difference in determining provincial and IHA capital priorities.

And he said the IHA officials suggested enlisting the help of the community’s 22 doctors to help with the lobbying.

But Neis said it was her understanding from the meeting that the IHA suggestion was to try and bring the doctors together to agree to house their practices in one large building, where services could be shared thus creating a non-official local health centre.

IHA suggested West Kelowna look at a public-private partnership with doctors similar to a facility currently operating in the Vancouver Island community of Parksville.

Meantime, council wants to hear directly from IHA officials at a future council meeting, plans to raise the issue with Stewart, and enlist the assistance of Peachland in developing a plan to move forward.