It’s said you should never look a gift horse in the mouth.
But that’s exactly what the province has done in regard to the Central Okanagan Regional Hospital Board’s offer to pay for a fourth floor on the planned new Interior Heart and Surgical Centre at Kelowna General Hospital.
Despite pleas of poverty when it comes to paying teachers and other public service workers and maintaining some public services, the brain trust in Victoria had the opportunity to have somebody else pay for an extra floor on the new heart centre, a floor that may not be needed now but will be needed one day.
The reason for the rejection appears to be concern that if the extra floor is built, there will be demand right away to use it, as was evidenced recently with the construction of a new patient tower at Vernon’s Jubilee Hospital. And, after plowing nearly $1 billion into health care facilities in the Okanagan in recent years, the government feels—quite rightly— enough is enough.
But there was a way to deal with that threat and still accept the money. The government could have just made an agreement with Interior Health that put a time limit on how long it will be before consideration is given to equipping, staffing and using the added fourth floor. It obviously has a rough time line in mind now as to how long it will be before the building will need to expand. So why not just put that in writing and take the money and run? After all, it is going to build the centre with the capability to add a fourth floor later.
The regional hospital board offered to pay for, and shell in, a fourth floor on the IHSC after an earlier offer to lend the province the $8.35 million was rebuffed. The board made a similar loan to Victoria in order to get the top two floors of the new Centennial Building at KGH added.
The board figures that the cost of adding a fourth floor will be at least double when the province gets around to building it, the KGH site is a compact place to build and adding a new floor to a building full of high-tech, sensitive equipment and sick people will be no easy task in future. But Victoria doesn’t see it that way.
According to Premier Christy Clark, there will be operating costs for the empty floor and her government doesn’t have the money to pay them. As for her health minister, Mike de Jong, he has been strangly silent on the issue despite attempts to get an answer. (The actual rejection of the offer was left to his deputy minister.)
The Central Okanagan is, and should be, grateful for the money being spent here to improve health facilities. But with an growing and aging population, the day will come when this area needs a bigger heat centre than the one being planed now.
The government’s rejection of free money now for something it will pay for in future—albeit many years down the road— is just shortsighted.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.