Northern Health is looking for at least $14.5 million so it can boost the level of before and after birth care at the new Mills Memorial Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)

Northern Health is looking for at least $14.5 million so it can boost the level of before and after birth care at the new Mills Memorial Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)

New Mills Memorial project faces cost increase

Money needed for increased before and after birth care

Northern Health is looking for at least $14.5 million so it can boost the level of before and after birth care from what is provided now at the current Mills Memorial to what it wants to offer when the new Mills now under construction opens its doors.

It’s a cost for construction details and equipment not included in the $622.6 million budget for the new Mills or the accompanying new Seven Sisters mental health facility.

And that’s because the wish to move from Tier 2 neonatal care to the more advanced Tier 3 level came after the business plan, current construction design and budget for the new Mills and Seven Sisters project had been set and approved.

“The primary drivers for the decision to pursue a Tier 3 designation are the nature and number of births, as well as local service considerations,” explained Northern Health’s Sarah Artis of the reasoning after the budget was set.

“It is believed that the demand for perinatal and neonatal services in northwest B.C. will meet the standards for a Tier 3 service level set by the revised guidelines,” she added.

Those revised guidelines introduced in 2020 for before and after birth care also meant there were increased costs within the six tiers of newborn care, another factor in explaining the amount of money needed, Artis said.

Northern Health’s wish for a higher level of before and after birth care comes at a crucial time as a final design is to be submitted for approval Dec. 23.

As it is, project main contractor PCL Constructors has already told Northern Health that its firm price for construction and equipment for that Tier 3 designation would be $14.5 million and that the price was only good until the end of November.

There is no other hospital in the region with a Tier 3 designation and having the new Mills provide that level of care would solidify the facility acting as a regional health care centre.

A Tier 2 facility provides care at 37 weeks of gestation whereas a Tier 3 designation provides care at 34 weeks of gestation.

A Tier 3 facility may also “provide perinatal services to pregnant woman or individuals at 32 weeks gestation,” states the revised tier guidelines from Perinatal Services BC, an agency within the Provincial Health Services Authority.

Patients from this region are often now transferred to the University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George which is a Tier 4 facility or to the B.C. Children’s and Women’s Hospital, a Tier 6 facility, in Vancouver, said Artis.

“Also, mothers and babies could return to Mills Memorial Hospital from Tier 4 to 6 sites earlier. This all means care closer to home for many new mothers and newborns and their families,” she added.

The construction revisions and equipment provisions required to meet the Tier 3 standards do not include adding beds to the 78 that will make up the new Mills, Artis said.

The maternity and gynecology bed count is already to rise to five from the current three and there will be four labour room beds, an increase of one.

Just where Northern Health may find the money for a Tier 3 service isn’t yet known but it is speaking with the North West Regional Hospital District and the Dr. REM Lee Foundation charity about financial assistance.

The hospital district, headquartered in Terrace, stretches from Haida Gwaii to the Houston area and taxes properties to help pay for major health-related capital projects.

A deal reached with the provincial government nearly four years ago when budget estimates were in the $380 million range called for the regional hospital district to pay no more than 30 per cent of the cost with a cap of $113.7 million.

That deal survived a project cost escalation to $450 million in 2020 and a jump to $622.6 million announced this year, a figure that does, however, include replacing the current Seven Sisters mental health facility.

Any decision to exceed the $113.7 million cap by the regional hospital district would require the approval of its board made up of representatives from the three regional districts within the northwest.

“As with any proposed change to a project that is already underway, there is a process to be followed to seek approvals and determine costs and funding sources,” indicated a provided statement from the health ministry.

“That process is underway and more information will be available in the coming weeks and months.”