Millions in hospital reserve saves taxpayers: chair

Hospital board says building up reserve now will level the playing field for later.

How many millions to set aside for the regional hospital is a hot topic every year during budget talks.

The reserve fund was established in 2007 and capped at $3 million, then upped to $10 million four years ago.

Some politicians assert taxing for future projects not yet identified is a slippery slope, while others favour saving up to cushion the impact of inevitable costs that come with maintaining medical facilities.

And, with a $40 million project being championed for Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital (KBRH), the hospital board chair says building the reserve now, will level the playing field later.

“If you want to keep the West Kootenay regional hospital in Trail and sustain it for future years the renovations have to be done,” says Marguerite Rotvold, board chair of the West Kootenay-Boundary Regional Hospital District.

“If we have a reserve fund we can use that toward the cost of renovation instead of having a major increase in taxes to the taxpayer,” she explained. “Rather than a spike or drop, I would (prefer) my taxes stay as they are and put into the reserve instead of saying, ‘No’ I’ll pay a big increase when the time comes.”

Though the decision for KBRH upgrades remains in the hands of the province, Rotvold says maintaining a $10 million cap could support moving the sustainability project forward in stages.

“The Ministry of Health has not approved the renovation so IH (Interior Health) cannot commit to it,” she said. “But if we get information in phases, and what the costs are, we may be able to say we have reserve funds and ask the ministry to support a Phase 1. Instead of the $40 million (all at once)we can look at the process and do it in stages.”

Aside from the complete overhaul, which includes upgrades to KBRH emergency, pharmacy and ambulatory care, Rotvold pointed out reserves are necessary for other costs that can arise, such as a major equipment malfunction in any of the facilities under the district’s umbrella.

“Money is going to come out of reserves for that as well,” she said. “And that’s the challenge – looking at the long haul. I know some people don’t like it (building reserves) but I strongly support it.”

The main purpose of the regional hospital board is to provide funding for facility equipment and capital projects.

The hospital district typically pays for 40 per cent of the cost of approved capital projects while the remaining 60 per cent is funded by the province or through donations provided by local hospital foundations.

Of the $6.3 million capital plan proposed by IHA in 2016, the hospital district’s share nears $2.6 million.

Noteworthy KBRH projects include $1.2 million for Intensive Care Unit upgrades, $700,000 for two seclusion rooms and another $600,000 for sanitary pipe repairs and a new sterilizer.

A further $1 million will be used for equipment replacement in Trail and Kootenay Lake Hospital in Nelson, $547,000 for a general radiographic system and $400,000 for a new chiller in Boundary Hospital.

“We’ve directed staff to bring the bylaws back to our next meeting on Feb. 24,” Rotvold added. “So the projects will be approved, and we will be discussing the reserve fund, whether to increase it or keep it at the cap.”