An ill wind could blow in Trail after a new study on the state of the West Kootenay-Boundary hospitals is completed later this year.
On May 23 the West Kootenay-Boundary Regional Hospital District (WKBRHD) board carried a motion to initiate a facility study for the region at the earliest opportunity, aiming to determine a range of options for health care in the hospital district.
The motion, opposed by Trail city representative Robert Cacchioni, rips the scar off a recent wound delivered by Castlegar over the future of Kootenay-Boundary Regional Hospital’s (KBRH) regional status.
Fears were raised earlier this year over the possible removal of regional status from KBRH when Castlegar city council discussed the possibility of a new regional hospital in that city with Health Minister Mike de Jong.
But WKBRHD board chair Marguerite Rotvold said the motion for the facility study had been forthcoming for years, and was deemed a necessary course of business to ensure the West Kootenay-Boundary health care facilities were kept up to date.
“When you have it and lose it you really get riled up,” she admitted about health care services. “But can you safely provide the service? That’s the thing.”
Although Castlegar had been pursuing relocation of the regional hospital, Rotvold noted there had not been any talk on the board of a new location for a regional hospital.
“That would be something the IHA and the government would have to come up with,” she said. “Castlegar is promoting (its community), but whether that is what the recommendation is going to be is not for us to decide.”
On March 11 Trail city council supported a motion dedicated to keeping regional status at KBRH. At the time, Trail councillor Kevin Jolly led a campaign requesting all capital funding for the region be dedicated to the refurbishment, upgrade and support of existing medical facilities “to deliver the highest level of patient care.”
Two weeks ago IHA made a presentation to the WKBRHD board, illustrating the future need of health care facilities in the region as “considerable.”
It noted the age of the Trail and Nelson hospitals and the subsequent upgrades needed could significantly inflate the costs of an upgrade.
It was predicted $155 million was needed for an upgrade of the two current major facilities, or for a new facility. The hospital district would be on the hook for 40 per cent of the cost, raised through an increase in regional taxation.
In October, 2010, West Kootenay-Boundary municipal councils were given the heads-up that major health expenses were coming and, along with them, increased taxes.
Considering the age, the advancements in technology, and the extensive revamp of the buildings needed to bring it up to code, the board members felt there should be a planning session put in place to help determine which way to go, said Rotvold.
“Do we keep putting in money to upgrade or do we look at new facilities?” she asked. “Those questions will be answered through that planning review.”
The IHA will conduct the study of the facilities this year and it could be completed by Christmas, said Rotvold.
In addition to the review and the assessment, the IHA will make recommendations to the board on the direction it should take.
Cacchioni questioned the study, not only from a cost perspective, but in light of recent assurances from
IHA board of director’s chair Norman Embree in a letter to Trail city council May 21.
In the letter Embree said concerns with KBRH’s regional status were unfounded. He pointed to the significant investment the IHA, the community and the city (through infrastructure investments) have made in the hospital as reasons why it would remain the West Kootenay’s regional facility.
Embree cited over $20 million invested in capital upgrades and maintenance at the hospital since the IHA was created in 2001.
“But you don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t think the government has much money or much appetite for building a new facility … for a relatively small number of people,” Cacchioni said.
“Given the letter and given the fact it appears there is not going to be much change … why spend the time and the resources on that when, in fact, I think it’s a long ways down the road, if it is there at all.”
Embree also said long term facility capital planning was a continuous exercise undertaken by IHA, paying attention to the demographic information of the area, including projected population aging and areas of projected population growth and decline.
“We also examine our existing physical plant as, over time, continued investment in aging facilities can be more costly that investing in new facilities,” he said.