West Kelowna Mayor Gord Milsom. —Image: Capital News file

West Kelowna steps up efforts for urgent care centre

Announcement expected early in 2019 about a centre that could be located in the city

West Kelowna’s new mayor says with news the province may announce plans for an urgent primary care centre somewhere in the Central Okanagan early next year, he is stepping up city efforts to have the facility located there.

Gord Milsom said Thursday the issue of a health centre in West Kelowna has a been a priority for him during his first few weeks on the job and he already has meeting set up with new Interior Health CEO Susan Brown to discuss the matter. Milsom said he is also seeking a meeting with Heath Minister Adrian Dix to directly lobby for the centre.

“There a great need for an urgent care centre here, not only for West Kelowna but also for the Westbank First Nation and Peachland,” said Milsom. “We’re doing our best to lobby for it.”

On Wednesday, Kelowna-Lake Country MLA and B.C. Liberal health critic Norm Letnick told the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce he, Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart and Kelowna-Mission, MLA Steve Thomson had all spoken with Dix and believe an announcement about a urgent primary care centre will be made in the first quarter of 2019. He said all three MLAs believe it will be located somewhere in the Central Okanagan.

West Kelowna has had an urgent care centre as a top priority since shortly after it incorporated 11 years ago.

With Thursday marking the city’s 11 anniversary of incorporation, Milsom said the urgent care centre lobbying effort remains a priority for him and and his new council and he is confident the city has a strong case in calling for such a facility to be located on the west side of Okanagan Lake.

The province announced earlier this year 10 urgent primary care centres will be created across the province, with two in each of B.C.’s five health authority regions. So far, four centrs have been created under the NDP government’s plan—one each in Vancouver, Surrey, the Victoria area and in Kamloops. A fifth centre, created by the former Liberal government 10 years ago, is located in Parksville on Vancouver Island.

Letnick said creation of a centre in the Central Okanagan would not only alleviate pressure on Kelowna General Hospital’s busy emergency department, but also help provide health care service for those without a family doctor.

What a centre would look like here, and the services it would provide, have yet to be determined. The government has said it wants the centres to provide health services to people in need when they need them, either by appointment or as walk-in patients. Existing centres operate during the week and on weekends, and are open in the evenings.

Milsom said with a growing and aging population on the west side of the lake, such a facility is badly needed there. He said the local case is backed up by a report written by former Interior Health official Joanna Konnert in 2013 that said West Kelowna should continue to lobby the government for improved health services.

Area MLA Ben Stewart said like Letnick and Thomson, he supports creating of an urgent care centre facility in the Central Okanagan, but said he and the other two MLAs were not lobbying for it to be a specific municipality.

However, he said he has heard loud and clear from his constituents that they want to see it located in West Kelowna.

Interior Health, in the late 2000s, wanted to build facility that would have offered urgent health care services in Westbank and even bought land at Elliott Road and Butt Road for construction. But the plan never got off the ground and was eventually shelved after Konnert’s report came out.

One of her findings was the number of visits to the emergency department of KGH by Westside residents dropped 20 per cent between 2008 and 2012.

Milsom said it was his understanding a new urgent primary care centre would be located in an existing building and offer services in addition to what are now available in West Kelowna, including triage for patients needing to be transferred to KGH.

He said the city has identified five possible locations for a centre in the city. Those locations have not been made public.

“We don’t want there to be an announcement that it will be elsewhere (other than West Kelowna),” said Milsom. “It will be good for the entire Central Okanagan but we feel we have a strong case for to to be be somewhere in the Greater Westside.”

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