CITY COUNCIL is continuing its efforts to have the provincial government pay more attention to the need for a new Mills Memorial Hospital by discussing strategy with the key agencies responsible for local and regional health care.
It’s now planning a meeting with the Northern Health Authority, which runs the hospital, and the North West Regional Hospital District, which collects property taxes in this region to be used for hospital construction and medical equipment.
“I think that although we had a good meeting with the premier in which I think we were heard, we need to do some serious lobbying,” said councillor Lynne Christiansen, referencing a city council meeting with Christy Clark in Victoria in September.
Clark visited here in September before the Victoria meeting and did agree that either a new hospital or renovations were needed.
“I think we’ve been sitting back quietly while other areas are doing some heavy duty lobbying,” Christiansen added in laying out a motion for council to meet with other groups regarding a new hospital.
Mayor Carol Leclerc agreed, citing the need for a Mills replacement to factor into the provincial government’s spending plans for next year.
“I think the [provincial] budget comes out in February so I think we want to put the pedal to the metal a little bit sooner to make sure we [get that] done,” she said.
Councillor Michael Prevost suggested including the First Nations Health Authority, which provides health services for aboriginal people, and the Nisga’a Valley Health Authority, which provides health services in the Nass Valley, to the invite list in addition to the Northern Health Authority.
“I think in terms of discussion, we are really missing the opportunity of getting the support of the First Nations Health Authority to move us forward. I think the value of having the three health authorities potentially involved as support for lobbying would help,” he said.
“It makes more sense rowing our boat in the same direction instead of in a number of different directions,” agreed Leclerc.
Councillor Brian Downie extended the concept of meeting with other agencies by suggesting a mass community rally was in order.
“I think judging from the newspaper, there’s tremendous interest in a hospital replacement but to get everybody together to show their commitment I think is really an important step,” he said.
Christiansen said the prospect of a rally could be discussed when council meets with the other groups.
She also recalled a rally at the REM Lee Theatre more than 20 years ago when a full-house of citizens demanded the province increase the operating budget of Mills Memorial.
Speaking at its own meeting held several days prior to the city council meeting, North West Regional Hospital District chair Harry Nyce said it was continuing to press the case for a new Mills Memorial Hospital.
But he noted the northwest is not the only area in B.C. where new hospital construction is needed.
“We’re not an isolated case,” said Nyce of the effort to include a new Mills within the province’s capital spending plans.
Nyce said provincial health minister Terry Lake has “been very straight with us,” in his refusal so far to even approve of a business case study in order to fully develop the scope and cost of a new Mills which is now estimated at $450 million.
The hospital district has even offered to pay for a business study on its own, something that’s been turned down by Lake for the past two years.
“He’s not able to confirm anything at the moment,” said Nyce of Lake.
Nyce does welcome letters of support for a new Mills from the local and outlying areas, and said the hospital district would appreciate citizens sending their own letters and communications directly to the province.
Council also passed a motion to invite Clark to tour the hospital on her next visit here.
They felt there would no trouble in having a tour quickly organized to meet her schedule.
Finance minister Mike de Jong also toured the hospital last month.