Williams Lake’s hospital redevelopment business plan has been approved to upgrade the 1963-era Cariboo Memorial Hospital (CMH).
The next step will be to finalize design with construction slated to begin 2021 for a new addition, followed by renovations of the existing facility.
Under sunny skies and standing on the cafeteria deck of CMH, Minister of Health Adrian Dix announced the $217.75 million capital project Wednesday, July 24.
“You are going ahead,” Dix said, adding it’s been a long process as discussions began for redeveloping the site back in 2009. “We are increasing the number of beds from 28 to 42, and building 10 spaces for further beds to allow us to increase the capacity to 52 without having to do a new project.”
Other details of the upgrade include a three-storey, plus basement building, approximately 9,500 square metre new addition to the hospital, as well as renovations to current parts of the facility.
There will be a larger emergency department, more room for ambulatory care, a mental health and substance abuse inpatient unit and a maternal services unit where new parents stay in the same room with their babies until they are ready to go home. There will also be a University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine space and 71 new parking spots.
Costs of the upgrade will be shared by the provincial government, Interior Health and the Cariboo Chilcotin Regional Hospital District (CCRHD), with the CCRHD providing 40 per cent.
There will be two phases — one will begin in the start of 2021 with work on the new addition, expected to be completed in 2023. The second phase will resume after that with renovations to the current hospital, expected to finish by 2025.
“You will see the emergency department moving into the new building, which is an exciting thing,” Dix said.
Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Willie Sellars said provincial government funding going into the hospital has been a long-time coming.
“It is long overdue. Williams Lake being the hub to a number of First Nations communities, including Tsilhqot’in, Secwepemc and Carriere, we all use this for all of our health service needs,” Sellars said. “The investment is not only going to benefit the First Nations people, but this region in general.”
CCRHD chair Bob Simpson said the regional hospital district has been pushing for the project for a long time.
“We have gotten to a ‘yes’ very quickly under the new government,” Simpson said.
“I want to thank Minister Dix that we have leadership in your ministry that realized how important this was. I don’t think we should take for granted that this project was approved.”
Simpson said the region is seeing the money the CCRHD believes it deserve coming back into the communities.
“The timing is critical, adding to health care and hospitals in this region. It comes when our traditional forest sector is in a meltdown.”
It is anticipated the project will stimulate 1,400 direct and indirect jobs, Dix said.
Throwing up his arms to say “hooray,” Dr. Glenn Fedor said for someone who has been in health care for 40-plus years, he believes the redevelopment will put Williams Lake on the map in a more positive way.
“Will it be about better care?” he added. “As far as I’m concerned, the nurses and doctors and health care providers already provide great care. What will be different will be the experience. It will be more positive, more culturally appropriate, there will be a better flow through the system. Patients will see the health care providers better being able to work together for them.”
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said she was glad Dix made the announcement and had her government been in power, it would have been announced as well.
“I will stay on it until the shovels are in the ground,” Barnett said. “It has been on my bucket list since I got elected. It’s great news and I commend the staff. Whether you are a nurse, a doctor, a psychiatrist, a paramedic or you work in housekeeping in this facility, these people hold this place together and the new facility will give them so much encouragement.”
Thanking all the taxpayers, Barnett said it’s not government money, it’s not regional hospital money, but it’s taxpayer money.
Dr. Doug Cochrane said as IH board chair seeing the approvals move forward is “phenomenal,” but would never occurred without the patience and help from people living in the Williams Lake area.
“You’ve been waiting a long time for an expanded facility that is modern, that is creative in services that we would all like to have to be able to provide and be able to receive,” Cochrane said.
Outlining the history of hospital care in the community, Cochrane said it began in the 1920s with a clinic run by a local couple and then a two-room hospital facility run by the community as a first-aid station.
“It was in 1925 the War Memorial Hospital was built and was opened only with the community’s support. There were fundraising dances and drives and plays,” Cochrane said, adding it was the community that came together in 1962 to mobilize the building of Cariboo Memorial Hospital.