$12.5 million worth of upgrades slated for UNHBC

Local MLAs made a pre-election announcement Friday of short- and long-term upgrades to the University Hospital of Northern B.C.

More immediately, they said business plan approval has been made for two projects:

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- Adding 27 new beds by converting the existing second floor ultrasound and diabetes clinic space into a new medical inpatient unit. The project will also reconfigure the fourth floor for the relocation of the ultrasound unit.

The work is budgeted at $8 million and construction is expected to be completed in the fall of 2018 and create an estimated 29 direct and 19 indirect jobs.

- Upgrading the electrical system to improve reliability and prevent power outages. The hospital had run into trouble on that front in the past.

$4.5 million has been earmarked for that work, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2018 and create an estimated 16 direct and 11 indirect jobs.

Over the longer term, concept planning is expected to begin this year for improved and expanded surgical services, including new operating rooms as well as post-anaesthetic recovery unit, pre-surgical screening, operating room booking, day surgery, medical device reprocessing and surgical inpatient accommodation.

Northern Health chair Charles Jago chair said it will amount to a six-storey building with advanced surgical suites "with the kinds of facilities we need to perform the functions that we need here."

The progress made drew accolades from Dr. Bill Simpson of the Northern Medical Society. In February, he raised concern that UHNBC was being left out while major projects were announced for Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops and Vancouver General Hospital.

"As an advocate for surgical services in the north, I am absolutely delighted," Simpson said. "This is everything we have asked for."

Concept planning work will also be pursued for both mental health and cardiac services.

The work on mental health services, will include looking at adult and adolescent psychiatric units, substance-use services, an intensive care unit, withdrawal management and a youth treatment centre.

And Northern Health will work with Cardiac Services BC to to see how cardiac care will be incorporated into the planning process.

Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond said concept planning is expected to start right away and described it as the "essential go signal."

"It helps to ensure that the project meets the healthcare needs of the community now and in the future," Bond said during an event at the UNHBC atrium.

It precedes the business plan stage which includes more in-depth analysis and more detailed information on scope, procurement plan, budget and funding.

"The hospital is an incredibly important regional place for northerners, for medical students, patients and families," Bond said. "That said, we recognize there are important solutions needed to support the health of the residents and the incredible staff we have here at UNHBC."

Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris who spoke on the projects set to be completed over the shorter term, called them "just another example of the upgrades we are making to support the residents of the north."

He went on to highlight a $2.86 million magnetic resonance imaging replacement project announced earlier this year. A new MRI arrived in February and is currently housed in a mobile unit while a new suite is constructed. That work should be completed by early summer.

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