Shuswap MLA divided on hospital expansion

Vernon Jubilee: Abbott not convinced by lobbying for two shelled-in floors.

A local politician is reluctant to join the fight to open two additional floors at Vernon Jubilee Hospital to ease overcrowding.

Shuswap MLA George Abbott, who represents Salmon Arm, Armstrong, Enderby and Falkland, says a number of factors must be considered before the government looks at adding acute care beds at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.

“I am not in a position to be definitive on whether they (two shelled-in floors) should or should not be completed,” he said.

VJH is funded for 148 acute care beds but, on average, there are 165 patients daily. Patients are placed in hallways and surgeries have been cancelled.

Residents, physicians, nurses, civic leaders and Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster have been demanding that Victoria complete the two shelled-in floors for acute care beds because of chronic capacity issues.

However, Abbott says the new patient care tower, which will open in September, should create greater efficiencies for patient flow.

“The sensible thing to do is complete the $180 million (tower) and see how they can manage capacity issues,” he said.

“There is no experience on what will happen with capacity.”

Abbott, who says he hasn’t received many calls from constituents about overcrowding, believes vacated space in the existing hospital could also be used for patients once the tower is operational.

“There are overcapacity issues for a variety of reasons,” he said.

“There is a growing need for alternate level of care (residential) beds. I’m advised 46 new beds will come on stream later in the community to deal with capacity. Interior Health is attempting to deal with the situation.”

Ministry of Health officials have indicated that one of the challenges in considering the two floors at VJH is the government’s limited financial resources.

It could cost $10 million to develop each of the floors, and then $10 million each annually to operate the floors.

“Health care has grown every year at about six per cent at a budgetary level,” said Abbott, a former health minister.

“There are relentless pressures on the health-care budget but it’s important to remember that there has been a huge investment made in the North Okanagan in health care (the tower).”