Provincial health minister Adrian Dix came to Terrace May 21, 2019 to announce the go ahead for a new Mills Memorial Hospital. (File photo)

Provincial health minister Adrian Dix came to Terrace May 21, 2019 to announce the go ahead for a new Mills Memorial Hospital. (File photo)

Financial fallback plan in place for Mills Memorial replacement

That’s in case province rejects first submission

Planners working on the Mills Memorial Hospital replacement project have crafted a fallback position should the provincial government turn down a first attempt to finalize a construction contract.

As it stands now, the hospital project board is to consider the final plan in late November, submit it to the province and then, if approved, to sign the contract with an eye to construction commencing in December.

But should the Province turn that first submission down, planners will regroup to make a second submission next March and if approved, for construction to start next April.

Planners from Northern Health are now working through design and financing details with multi-national PCL Construction, the only company that expressed an interest in building a new Mills on the site that contains the current hospital. At $447.5 million, the planned project also calls for demolishing the adjacent Seven Sisters mental health residential building to make room for the new hospital and then building a replacement at the same location.

The North West Regional Hospital District, a regional taxing authority which helps pay for major health equipment purchases and construction projects, was updated via a virtual meeting with Northern Health officials Aug. 14.

It has committed just over $110 million, or approximately 25 per cent, of the overall budget.

“The timeline is dependent on the acceptability of the first design/financial submission from the proponent,” said Yvonne Koerner, the Kitimat-Stikine regional district’s chief financial officer who also has responsibility for the hospital district’s functions.

”We are not concerned at this point as we know there is a two-month space in the schedule in case there is need to wait for a second submission.”

An August briefing document from Northern Health indicated the $447.5 million budget, for now, remains unchanged to add 34 beds in different departments to the 44 beds at the current Mills.

The main medical ward is to increase to 36 beds from the current 24, five new beds will make up a northwest orthopedic ward by consolidating that service from other facilities, the intensive card ward will be eight beds, up from the current five, and the regional psychiatric unit will double in size from 10 beds to 20 beds.

Instead of rooms containing four beds and inadequate washrooms, patients will now have their own rooms, meeting a standard that’s now accepted in other new hospitals.

Plans also call for a doubling of the emergency department from 10 to 20 treatment spaces and four operating rooms, up from three. The new Seven Sisters will have 25 beds, an increase of five.

Koerner said it was important that the design of the new Mills be done correctly prior to the project being submitted for approval.

To that end planners, and PCL Construction representatives, met with hospital staffers and others over the summer to nail down requirements for services ranging from the emergency department to cancer care to the renal unit to birthing rooms to CT and MRI operations.

Key to the new Mills will be its designation as a Level III trauma centre for the region, enabling it to care for patients who now have to be transported to other facilities.

The August briefing document from Northern Health did list what it called key project risks including construction cost escalation, shortage of worker accommodation for the large out-of-town workforce that will be needed and potential COVID-19 impacts such as securing construction materials and labour availability and productivity.

Intensive lobbying for a new Mills to replace the current one in the middle part of the last decade with the regional hospital district and local government representatives calling the current 60-year old facility one that is well past its prime.

A series of encouraging moves from the provincial government culminated in May 2019 with the announcement that the money was in place to enable construction planning.