Final decision on hospital cap looming

Regional district agrees to lobby for Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital.

There are two sides to every story – especially when it comes to collecting tax dollars.

That is why the decision to raise the cap for future hospital renovations higher than $10 million still sits on the shoulders of municipal and regional officials.

A final vote on whether to maintain or build tax reserves won’t come back to the WKBRHD (West Kootenay-Boundary Regional Hospital District) until later this month, but the topic did raise healthy debate during the Feb. 24 board meeting in Castlegar.

“A lengthy and robust discussion occurred, and I was absolutely delighted this got to the table and got so many of the board members engaged,” says Trail Mayor Mike Martin, the city’s board representative. “Because it is a critical issue for us in the fact that we are continuing to accumulate a reserve without a definitive plan.”

Therein lies the controversy of whether the board should up the reserves, which currently amount to $9.3 million.

Martin voices concern about amassing tax dollars, but concedes his point of view is offset by other perspectives

“One of the points I raised was, we are collecting taxes from current taxpayers and there is no plan against which to contribute those funds,” he added. “So the taxpayers are being imposed with a tax from which there is no benefit they are likely to realize in the short term.”

The flip side of reasoning centres on social conscience, he says.

“The reverse argument is that we have a social responsibility to look after those that come after us,” Martin continued.

“And we should ensure that we have good healthcare systems in place for our future generations – so there are two sides to this. And both, I think, are valid.”

Local councils have three more weeks to wrestle with an outcome before the board reconsiders the matter.

“We have many viewpoints put on the table,” Martin added. “So we are taking each back to our respective councils for input before we go back for the final discussion and final decision March 24.”

In the interim, Martin approached the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) board Thursday evening to request support in lobbying the Ministry of Health (MoH) on behalf of the regional hospital.

His appeal stems from disappointing news in December.

During a visit from Chris Mazurkewich, Interior Health’s (IH) new CEO, Martin was expecting to hear some guidelines from the ministry on moving ahead with a $40 million renovation plan for Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital (KBRH).

Instead, he found that the plan was sent back for the health authority to investigate whether it could fund the project – the conclusion being IH could not do it solely because several other projects are in the works.

“In my view there is no question about IH’s commitment here,” said Martin. “They have told us the KRBH Sustainability Plan is on their top priority list, and we accept that.”

Martin is steadfast that strong regional advocacy is needed to move the project forward.

“What we need to do now is ensure that Interior Health has the necessary support and direction from government to actually move this into a planning stage,” he said.

Multiple partners are involved, including a very important partner, the Regional District of Central Kootenay, he added.

“We will be looking to them for support as well through the regional hospital district.”

With the exception of one member, the RDKB board agreed to support Martin’s request.

“From my perspective, if you want anything to move, you have got to lobby for it,” says Grace McGregor, RDKB board chair.

“If you don’t show you are keeping track and your interest is there as a region, because it is our regional hospital, then often, you kind of get pushed to the side, ” she added.

“I’m not saying that is what is happening, because I don’t know that, but what I am saying is that it can never hurt for us to work together as a unit, and try to push some buttons to move forward.”

She explained lobbying for one specific project isn’t the job of the regional hospital board.

“That would put them in a very difficult position,” she continued.

“But if you look at who we are – it’s our hospital. So if anyone is trying to move it forward, we should be the leaders in that.”