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East Kootenay hospital to get multimillion dollar addition

MLA announces $12 million in funding to build a new intensive care unit and upgrade the hospital’s electrical system.
Kootenay East Regional Hospital District board chair John Kettle expresses gratitude for $12 million in funding for a new intensive care unit at Cranbrook’s hospital. Seated: Interior Health board chair Norman Embree (left) and Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett (centre).

A project first mentioned in the B.C. government's 2013 budget in February has turned into a $12 million boon for Cranbrook's hospital.

On Friday, April 5, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett officially announced a $12 million contribution to help Interior Health replace the intensive care unit (ICU) at East Kootenay Regional Hospital (EKRH).

It's 60 per cent of the project's $20 million cost. The remaining 40 per cent – $8 million – has been funded by the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District board.

"It is my pleasure today to announce the next big thing for EKRH — a new intensive care unit and upgraded electrical system," Bennett said during the announcement in the hospital's lobby, attended by dozens of medical staff, hospital volunteers and fundraisers, and elected officials.

"All of us are involved in contributing to these improvements: the Hospital Foundation, Interior Health, the B.C. government, volunteers, and in particular the medical staff. As my father would say, you have taken a sow's ear and turned it into a silk purse.

"I recall in 2000, Maclean's magazine portrayed our hospital as the poster child for how bad rural health care was in Canada. Today, this new intensive care unit complements a new ambulatory care ward, new diagnostic imaging centre, new emergency room, new entrance and many new specialists."

The $20 million project will consist of a 6,500 square foot ICU with six beds, including equipment. The proposed design includes the capacity to build a second floor onto the expansion at a later date.

About 50 per cent of the project cost will go to upgrading the hospital’s electrical system, according to Todd Mastel, Interior Health’s director of business support.

“It’s a rebuild of the electrical backbone in the entire facility, taking the power supply from 208 volts to a 600 volt system, new transformers, upgrading the emergency power system including two new 750 kilowatt generators, as well as making sure we comply with CSA standards for hospitals,” Mastel said during a hospital district board meeting Friday morning.

A request for proposals for the ICU’s design will be issued on Monday. Construction is likely to start by the end of the year. However, because the electrical work must be carefully scheduled, it will take 36 to 40 months to complete, meaning the new ICU ward should open in late 2016.

The hospital district approved its $8 million of funding on Friday morning, just hours before the government announced its $12 million share.

In anticipation of the government funding, the hospital district had already budgeted $2.6 million for the project. On Friday, the board agreed to borrow another $5.4 million.

“I want to tell you proudly that we did that with no tax increase as a result,” said hospital district board chair John Kettle.

“This is one of the greatest announcements I’ve had the privilege to be involved in,” added Kettle. “We have it today because it was a team effort.

“We handed the ball to Bill (Bennett) and said: sic ‘em. Bring us the money. Today I take my hat off to Bill and say – he brought us the money.”

Dean McKerracher, vice chair of the hospital district board, spoke about the facility as someone who was a patient for four days in the existing ICU last year.

“There was not a lot of room in there by the time they hook up the machines,” he shared. “There is a great need for this facility and I am pleased to be part of this announcement.”

Internist Dr. Bill Newsome shared the gratitude of the hospital’s medical staff.

“On behalf of all of the staff, I am very excited about this new facility. We have all worked shoulder to shoulder in the old ICU. It is going to be a great service to the whole region.”