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Neighbouring regional health districts not interested in helping pay for UHNBC surgical tower

Asking five other regional hospital districts in Northern Health to help pay for a new surgical tower at UHNBC in Prince George did not go well
A new patient care/surgical tower is in the works for University Hospital of Northern B.C. The concept plan for the $600-700 million project was announced four years ago as part of the province's 10-year capital plan.

An attempt to convince the five other regional hospital districts in Northern Health to contribute to paying for a new surgical tower at University Hospital of Northern British Columbia did not go well, says Fraser-Fort George Regional Hospital District board chair Joan Atkinson.

Provincial legislation requires taxpayers within the regional hospital districts where the project is being built to cover 40 per cent of its cost. First pegged at $500-600 million, Atkinson said she understands the estimate for the tower has since grown to $800 million, which would translate into $320 million for taxpayers within the FFGRHD.

During the FFGRHD meeting last Thursday, Atkinson said she reached out to the five other RHDs within Northern Health to see if they would chip in, arguing the facility would serve patients from across northern B.C., only to be told no.

"That is not going to happen. That suggestion was not at all well received," Atkinson said. "The model is wherever the facility is built that's the regional hospital district's responsibility to provide that funding, so that's the message that I have."

FFGHRD directors went on to express frustration with the 60-40 arrangement when they were asked to approve a total of $3.2 million to cover 40 per cent of the cost of three upgrades to University Hospital of Northern B.C.

Electoral Area H (Robson Valley-Canoe) Dannielle Alan called the system of dealing with the requests  "fundamentally flawed" and said she would prefer to allocate a fixed amount each year - she suggested $7 million - to Northern Health to use as it sees fit and leave it at that.

"Right now, they can come to us for a blank cheque," Alan said. "We basically have no way of knowing what is coming at us every year...I would like to see us move toward a budgetary process where we give them a budget every year and they work within it and on what our taxpayers can reasonably afford."

Directors Brian Skakun (City of Prince George) and Victor Mobley (Electoral Area A - Salmon River-Lakes) voted against approving the recommendations.

"This is not against Northern Health, it's really directed at the province because they're the ones that created the legislation that allowed them to tax local taxpayers for a provincial responsibility which is healthcare," Skakun said.

Mobley cited a lack of information from Northern Health on why the upgrades are needed as the reason he opposed the motions.

Alan also noted a lack of specifics, particularly on a request to contribute $273,097 toward a $682,743 installation of an "energy efficient" preheat of domestic hot water storage at UHNBC.

Beyond a blank statement that the project will save energy and reduce carbon emissions, there is nothing more, said Allen.

"How much energy will it save? How much carbon emissions?" Alan asked.

Nonetheless, Alan joined most of the other directors in voting in favour of the contributions which included:

- $2.164 million to a $5.7-million upgrade to the sterile compounding room within the pharmacy at UHNBC to meet current standards.

-  $276,400 to a $691,000 replacement of computer servers at UHNBC.