Plan approved for new care tower at hospital in Prince George, B.C.

VICTORIA — British Columbia's Health Minister Adrian Dix says a significant step has been taken toward much needed upgrades to a hospital in Prince George, B.C.

Dix said during a news conference Sunday that a concept plan has been approved for a new patient care tower with a cardiac unit at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia.

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The plan includes new surgical facilities and beds for mental health and addictions patients, and the price tag sits around $600 million to $700 million dollars, he said.

"There was a profound need for an upgrade," Dix said Sunday. "It is an extraordinary thing and I'm very, very proud of this work."

Dix made the announcement as the B.C. government issued a flurry of press releases over the weekend, prompting speculation of an imminent election call.

Liberal finance critic Shirley Bond tweeted that the announcement follows years of calls for upgrades, debates and discussions.

"This project is essential for our region," said Bond, who represents Prince George-Valemount.

"See you on the campaign trail sometime soon," she added, addressing Dix.

Premier John Horgan did little to dispel the election rumours last week, saying only that he had not yet made a decision.

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena became the seventh cabinet minister on Sunday to announce she won't seek re-election.

"It is time to move on and take on new challenges," Trevena said in a news release Sunday.

"It has been a great privilege to be the representative of the North Island for 15 years and to have the trust of people across the constituency."

The current hospital was built in 1958 and additions were completed in 1978 and 2003.

It is outdated and too small to safely accommodate the needs of a growing and aging regional population. Local leaders have specifically identified cardiac care as an important service gap for a new facility to address, the government said in a news release.

Dix said the hospital plan will mean many residents of the region won't have to travel for invasive surgeries, can count on more privacy during consultations and won't need to rely on the existing "inadequate" facilities for mental health and addictions services.

"This announcement today is substantive action, it means the proposal and the capital plans are proceeding," he said.

Northern Health submitted the concept plan in December 2017 and it was amended this February. Its approval means the treasury board has greenlighted its funding as part of the government's 10-year capital plan.

The project will proceed now to the 12-18 month business plan development stage where the scope and budget of the project will be finalized, then on to procurement and construction, the government said.

Dix said the announcement does not mean his attention has been diverted from the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing out that it will also help alleviate pressure on the health-care system and especially surgical wait times.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has been the central concern of my life since January," he said.

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2020.

Note to readers: CORRECTS Bond's title to finance critic in para 6.

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