A crowd of locals gathered at the Margaret Patrick Memorial Hall last Thursday heard the long awaited news that the Lakes District Hospital replacement project was given the provincial thumbs up.
Amid loud applause and cheering, Health Minister Michael de Jong who arrived in Burns Lake to announce the project, said the procurement will begin this spring with construction expected to start in 2013 and be completed in 2015.
“We want to get on with this and we want to see this take shape,” he said.
The announcement was made during a Babine Forest Products sawmill employee breakfast.
Minister de Jong said, “Do not under estimate the degree to which your community’s response to the Babine Forest Products tragedy has inspired others across B.C. and across Canada. This tale will be told and retold for many years to come.”
The long awaited news was also welcomed by chiefs from the six local First Nations, Michael McMillan, chief operating officer from Northern Health, government officials, including Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad and Mayor Luke Strimbold.
“The new hospital that is being announced for Burns Lake will allow health professionals to continue giving high levels of support for those in need,” Minister de Jong said.
“Burns Lake has been in need of a new hospital for some time. This has been my number one capital priority as well as Northern Health’s. The announcement that the province is moving forward with construction of a replacement care facility is great news,” said Rustad.
Funding for the Lakes District Hospital replacement project will be cost shared by the province and Stuart Nechako Regional Hospital District.
Rustad said that 80 per cent of the approximate $55 million project will be paid for by the province while the taxpayers of the Stuart Nechako Regional Hospital District will pay 20 per cent.
The Stuart Nechako Regional Hospital District encompasses the communities of Burns Lake, Fraser Lake, Fort St. James, Granisle, and Vanderhoof together with the Electoral Areas of Burns Lake rural, Fort St. James rural, Fraser Lake rural, Francois Ootsa rural and Vanderhoof rural.
“This 80/20 per cent funding split is something that the community has been pushing for, for some time,” he said to Lakes District News.
Usually 60 per cent of the cost of capital projects, such as new hospitals, are funded by the province while taxpayers, through a hospital district, are required to pay the remaining 40 per cent.
“With two other hospitals in the district that need replacing soon and a small tax base, asking for a 40 per cent capital contribution would have been totally unrealistic,” Rustad said, adding that the burden on taxpayers would have been too great.
The project will generate approximately 200 direct jobs which Rustad said will be a good opportunity for local residents.
“Of course there will be specialized jobs, but there will be jobs clearing the site and other work that will be available.”
He said Northern Health will put the project up for tender in the coming weeks. “We hope to have something in place mid summer and work to begin at the site mid fall.”
Mayor Luke Strimbold said, “I am elated to hear that a new hospital for Burns Lake has been approved. This hospital will increase our level of health care services, create local jobs and bring comfort to families and businesses in the Lakes District.”
Mayor Strimbold said, “Community groups, individuals, the Stuart Nechako Regional Hospital District and former councils have been working with Northern Health and the provincial government towards a hospital replacement for many years. We can now celebrate our success. Northern Health engaged the community and requested input during the initial design stages for the new hospital and we look forward to continuing our working relationship as construction begins and health care capacity is increased in our community.”
Examples of possible features for the facility include up to 16 beds, acute care services, emergency services, diagnostic imaging, a laboratory and pharmacy. There are also plans at the new hospital for a procedure room large enough to be used as an operating room in an emergency.
“The residents, physicians and the staff at Lakes District Hospital have all been eagerly awaiting good news on a replacement hospital,” said McMillan.
“I have worked in health care for 30 years and I have never had the opportunity to be involved in building a new hospital … I am looking forward to the building of a legacy that will provide health care to the community for many years to come,” McMillan added.
He said, “Our promise is that we will continue to work with the community in the building of this new hospital … it is not our hospital, it is yours.”
The anticipated cost of the new hospital is in the range of $50 million to $55 million, which will be refined once the tendering process is complete and a contract is awarded.
Ralph Roy, chair of the Stuart Nechako Regional Hospital District said, “It’s a great day for all people of Burns Lake and it has been a long time coming. I have to pinch myself to remind me this is real. It is really going to happen. Many people have worked a long time for this.”
Regional District of Bulkley Nechako chair Bill Miller said, “The taxpayers have supported this project from the get go. Not only will the project be beneficial to Burns Lake and the immediate area but to those living in Fraser Lake and Granisle who have limited medical services.”
Injured sawmill worker Derek MacDonald was also invited to speak during the announcement.
He said, “Carl Charlie and Robert Luggi, as well as my sawmill B shift family were just like everyone else. We got up each day and went to work to provide for our families and make a living. On Jan. 20, 2012 at 8 p.m. our lives changed. This is not how I looked before. None of us know what happened that night. All I know is that a big fire ball happened. I don’t remember what happened after that and I woke up in hospital nine days later. I am proud that this news has come about. Day in and day out I think about my friends and the wives and what they have seen as a result of the tragedy. I am fortunate to be here today to hear this news. When I was in hospital I heard a lot of stories about the community coming together and it made me happy. We are going though a lot of physiotherapy and a lot of changes. Kenny Michell is now in the G.F. Strong rehabilitation unit in Vancouver and we are waiting for him to come home to us. News like this helps and this new hospital is going to make this place better. The B shift is the best crew I have worked with and I don’t want to keep talking about something that I am trying hard to forget … but the memory is always with me. There is still a long road ahead for people, but news like this helps … everything is going to be better from here on.”
The current Lakes District Hospital was built in 1962 and refurbishing was deemed too costly.
Since 2001, the Ministry of Health has provided approximately $500,000 to Northern Health in support of improving the condition of the facility.