Central Okanagan MLAs (left to right) Ben Stewart (Kelowna West), Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country) and Steve Thomson (Kelowna-Mission) spoke to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Wednesday. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

MLAs say they believe Central Okanagan is next on list for urgent primary care centre

Announcement expected in early 2019, but no indication of where centre will be located

The Central Okanagan’s three MLAs say they think the province’s next urgent primary care centre will be located somewhere in Central Okanagan.

During a joint address to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce by Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country), Steve Thomson (Kelowna-Mission) and Ben Stewart (Kelowna West), Letnick said said all three MLAs have talked to Health Minister Adrian Dix and are hopeful a centre will be announced for somewhere in one of their ridings early next year.

“We think it’s coming here. We don’t exactly know where yet, but hopefully in the first quarter of 2019 we’ll have an announcement,” said Letnick.

In May, the provincial government announced plans for the first 10 urgent primary care centres, with at least two in each of B.C.’s five health regions—the North, Interior, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland.

While each centre could operate in a slightly different manner depending on the needs of the area and if it is in a rural or urban region, the goal, according to the Ministry of Health, is to have people seen on the same day they need help either through an appointment or as a walk-in.

RELATED: West Kelowna renews push for urgent care centre

Letnick, the B.C. Liberals health critic, said it is his understanding a Central Okanagan centre would not only help alleviate pressure on an already busy Kelowna General Hospital emergency department, it could also help people who do not have a family doctor and use the emergency department for their regular medical needs.

Urgent primary care centres would be open evenings and on weekends and treat patients who need services beyond what they can receive at walk-in clinics but are not severe enough to warrent a trip to emergency.

Letnick said he, Thomson and Stewart have not lobbied for the centre to be located in any particular part of the Central Okanagan, but they are all supportive of a centre coming to the area.

In the past, West Kelowna has tried to have an urgent care health centre build there.

Stewart said he is well aware of the desire by Westside residents to see such a centre located onthe west side of the lake and pointed to the large growth in population there since land was acquired by Interior Health in Westbank in the mid-2000s for a health centre.

That plan, however, was scrapped in 2013 by the Interior Health following a study that found trip to the KGH emergency department by Westsideresidents dropped 20 per cent between 2008 and 2012. The land has sat vacant since then.

RELATED: Health care consultant’s research shows drop in West Kelowna residents’ emergency room visits

Stewart said accessibility is important, as in a definition of what an urgent care centre would look like in term of services provided.

“Everybody is going to have a different view of what urgent care is,” he said following the MLAs presentation to the Kelowna chamber.

Letnick said while Parksville has had an urgent care centre for about 10 years—a facility built under the former B.C. Liberal government—and information can be gleaned from its history, it’s too early to tell if the four new urgent care centres now in place under the NDP government’s plan, are meeting the needs. Those centres are located in the Vancouver, Surrey, Kamloops and Victoria areas.

He said it is not clear if the Parksville centre has alleviated pressure on the Nanaimo hospital.

During their presentation to the chamber, the three Kelowna-area MLAs listed a litany of local projects funded by both the former Liberal and the current NDP provincial governments in their ridings in recent years.

They also slammed the NDP for what they say are 19 new taxes introduced by the NDP since it came to power last summer and expressed concern about a number of legislative moves by Premier John Horgan’s government.

They also lamented their inability to get amendments made to NDP legislation because the B.C. Green Party always votes with the government. The NDP has an agreement with the three B.C. Green MLAs in the legislature to help keep it it power.

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