The replacement of the Stuart Lake Hospital process has begun, but it is the firs step of a long road.
Michael McMillan Chief Operating Officer of the Northern Health Authority spoke at a Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako meeting last month to give an update on where the process is at.
In January, Northern Health hopes to select the consultant firm which will begin the four-phase master planning process.
The process is expected to take around six months, though the one in Quesnel for their hospital has taken 18 months so far.
The first phase will involve master programming to predict future use and needs based on historical use, lab volumes, etc.. This will then create the basis for the master planning of what it is the new facility will have to accommodate.
Then functional programming will take place which will arrange the needs in the building based on possible sites.
These will then all form the basis for the fourth phase of creating a high-level cost estimate of the project. The replacement of the hospital will cost tens of millions of dollars, but no real cost can be determined until the first phases take place.
The overall master plan document can then form the basis for moving the project forward.
“That’s the document we have to get to,” said McMillan, who said the document would then be presented to stakeholders for input.
“I think it’s very important for the communities to know what is coming and it’s important for communities to have their input into various elements,” he said.
The site of the proposed hospital has not yet been determined, but the current hospital location is a possibility.
“That’s not a consultant decision or even a Northern Health decision in isolation,” said McMillan. He said Northern Health is already collaborating with health care providers in Fort St. James on the plan and will continue to do so.
While he said the project is fairly high on the priority list of Northern Health, it will still take some work to get the province to approve the project once the planning is done.
Capital projects for health care get ranked and then the list is taken to central provincial government.
McMillan said strong community support, strong representation by regional health districts, strong representation by municipal politicians and a very strong business case by the health authority are all key to having a project like this approved.
“If there’s gaps in any one of those, I think there’s an opportunity to the ministry to turn and look at a different project,” he said.
He said the approval of the new Burns Lake hospital, currently being built, took a concerted effort by many in the region and the same strategy should be used to get the Fort St. James hospital built.
“Every opportunity anybody gets to be in front of a politician or a bureaucrat that has any influence on it we have to remember to bring up the topic,” said McMillan.