Health care priorities debated following surprise funding announcement

Surprise provincial funding stirs debate on local health care priorities during regional meeting

Some surprise funding for capital health care projects projects caused some consternation during a regional hospital district board meeting last week.

The funding, approximately $2.3 million, was made available by the province and allocated by Interior Health for three projects — a long-term care business plan for the F.W. Green home in Cranbrook, energy conservation measures at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital, and a biomass boiler at the Invermere hospital.

The catch?

The Kootenay East Regional District Hospital Board has to fund 40 per cent of capital projects, meaning the organization would have to come up with an additional $1.5 million dollars after having already developed and approved it’s share of $2 million towards the 2020/2021 capital projects budget earlier this year.

Breaking down Interior Health’s latest capital funding request, that means the KERHD share comes out at $100,000 for the long-term care plan, $800,000 for the energy conservation measures at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital and $644,239 for the biomass boiler at the Invermere hospital.

Many of the directors around the table expressed frustration at having to suddenly come up with $1.5 million, and debated the merits of each individual project.

Mike Sosnowski, the director for Area A in the Elk Valley, said he took some heat from constituents defending the previously approved capital projects budget, given tax increases over the next three years that were included in order to build a pool of funding for anticipated major projects at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.

“I think it’s an insult to me, anyways, and probably to this board for them [Interior Health] to come and request this money after budget,” said Sosnowski. “Like, what the hell?”

Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick said the surprise provincial funding threw the board’s financial planning into ‘disarray’.

“I guess it’s true, we didn’t have this money before today,” McCormick said. “Now that it’s being tossed at us, we’re in a bit of a state of disarray. We don’t have to accept it, but my question is, can we, in fact, accept one of the proposed projects, and that being the long-term care business plan, which is consistent with the priorities that we’ve set.”

While the board wrestled with the merits of the two energy conservation projects at the hospitals in Cranbrook and Invermere, there was widespread support for moving forward with the KERHD’s $100,000 cost-share of the long-term care study for the F.W. Green Home.

“I think long-term care is in our strategy, so I think it would behoove us to take this money that’s proposed to do a long-term care business plan, so that when we do our 2020/2021 budget, we know more about what we’re looking at, and what the costs are,” said Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt.

A business study of long-term care at the F.W. Green Home will look at the entirety of the 58- bed facility in order to expand an additional 70 beds, according to Todd Mastel, Director Business Support, Interior Health.

“The business plan would look at the site,” Mastel said. “It would come up with some design options, look at the engineering around the existing facility. In the end, we’d have some firm cost estimates, in terms the best plan to move forward, with the upgrade of the existing 58 beds and to add the 70 more we need based on our population growth model.”

The F.W. Green Home was built in 1955, with subsequent renovations over the following years, and has a vacant land adjacent to the facility for expansion, if necessary. Mastel roughly estimated that the base cost of a new facility would start between $30-$40 million, with the KERHD being responsible for 40 per cent — approximately $14-$16 million.

Following lengthy discussions, the board approved the Interior Health’s request for the long-term care business plan for the F.W. Green Home, but deferred the other two projects to the next budget cycle.

Another element of the board’s frustration included the lack of a master plan for the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.

The board had previously identified oncology, pharmacy, renal dialysis and the microbiology labs as four significant priorities that required capital funding. However, only the pharmacy was approved for renovations last year, with the KERHD cost-share at $580,000.

While the recent provincial funding included a significant portion for energy conservation measures, it didn’t fit in to the board’s list of priorities.

Interior Health recently completed a space utilization study looking at the existing footprint of the existing hospital space, but a master plan would be used for projecting the lifespan and future needs of the facility.

“The master plan study, to me, means what’s the life of the hospital?” asked Dean McKerracher, the Mayor of Elkford and board chair. ” Is it five years, ten years, twenty years? Who knows? What’s on the list of the one year, five year, ten year plan? Is there more parking that we’re going to deal with? Are we going to put a parkade up? All of that. Are we going to put a lift on the ICU?”



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

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