The new Mills Memorial Hospital is going to have a standalone space in it where friends and families of patients can gather quietly.
And while Northern Health Authority official Andrea Palmer says it’s too early yet for details as to size and amenities, such a space is now standard in new facilities constructed over the past several years.
“The Mills Memorial Hospital replacement will include space that supports the cultural practices of the diverse communities we serve,” she said adding it has similar spaces at new hospitals in Burns Lake and on Haida Gwaii.
“We will be engaging with local Indigenous leaders and community members throughout the process as we move through the design and construction process,” Palmer said.
Northern Health has also struck a local committee to give advice on community preferences.
The Burns Lake District Hospital, for example, has a room marked “sacred space” where family and friends of patients can gather.
Right now, family and friends of patients at Mills can gather in the Vera Henry Education Room and there is a much smaller room off of the open area where the elevators are located.
Lynn Parker, the Kermode Friendship Centre’s cultural sensitivity and decolonization coordinator, says a quiet space will be welcomed.
“For Indigenous people coming to the hospital, for elders and chiefs, it’s a sign of respect for the person and for the family,” she said.
“A space for last rites, for ceremonies, for smudging, is important. And a spot for refreshments, people will bring food.”
Sometimes people will gather in hallways, a situation Parker acknowledges isn’t ideal for the family and for the hospital.
And speaking from a personal experience, Parker said a quiet space would have been appreciated.
“There were people from all over — Gitsequecla, Greenville — there were quite a few. They lined the halls,” she said.
And as much as Parker said a place for Indigenous people is important, the same is true for other groups in the region.
“I know a lot of people will come from out of town to pay their respects. Everyone should have a space when needed. When you think of the size of the northwest region, that’s important.”
As far as progress leading toward a construction start for the new Mills, which will cost upwards of $450 million, Northern Health and provincial authorities are now examining submissions.
That’s leading this month to choosing a short list of qualified proponents with a preferred proponent to be selected next August and a final contract to be signed next October.
The contract includes the demolition of the current Seven Sisters mental health residential facility to make room for the new Mills and the construction of its replacement.
The Seven Sisters replacement will need to be finished and residents moved over before demolition can take place and actual construction of the new Mills start.
Northern Health is also setting up a local project office and has started recruiting for that function.