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Black grills health minister over Royal Columbian Hospital expansion plans

The province won't release a timeline for a proposed expansion of Royal Columbian Hospital because it will be a project that will cost more than $1 billion, Health Minister Mike de Jong said in the legislature on Tuesday.

New Westminster MLA Dawn Black asked the minister for an update on the expansion because it had been a year since Fraser Health had forwarded its concept to the ministry. Most regional authorities have a response from the ministry within a couple of months, she said.

De Jon replied: "I understand that there are pressures accruing right now at Royal Columbian. I don't think anyone is prepared to deny that or would try to deny that. I'm always cautious, though, having been on the other side of these discussions, about not wanting to suggest timelines that are unrealistic. I know what I'd like to be able to say. The member would be thrilled and I'd probably feel pretty good if I stood up here and said, 'Don't worry. It will all be done next month.' We'll go make an announcement at the Westminster Quay and have a good time thereafter.

"The concept plan contains some specific proposals, and we'll need to go through that with a project team ultimately. But the costs are huge.

"It seems every time I visit another construction site, I'm talking about the biggest-ever capital investment in health care. Royal Columbian will, I think, eclipse all of the others in terms of what it represents—a billion-dollar plus project."

De Jong assured Black the expansion is a priority because of the pressures at RCH.

He also said he is aware of the seismic and general conditions of the Sherbrooke Centre, which Black said should be a big reason why the ministry should push Fraser Health's concept ahead.

Black also attacked the privatization of housekeeping services and cleaniness at RCH, saying a friend of hers recently spent three weeks at RCH because of a high-risk pregnancy. She was in danger of infection, but at one point no one had been in to clean her room for 48 hours. Black said she also has correspondence from doctors at the hospital concerned about superbugs.

De Jong responded, "...there may well be occasions when the standard isn't being met. We actually welcome people drawing that to our attention, because we want to achieve the higher standard." He said unannounced cleanliness audits are being conducted to improve standards.

Black also wants locums used to help when anesthetists are unavailable to help clear the surgical backlog. Black said Royal Columbian medical staff expect 200 slates of surgeries will be cancelled at the hospital this summer, which means potentially thousands of surgeries being postponed.

"When people are waiting a long time for their surgery, the idea of thousands being cancelled is pretty hair raising," Black said in the legislature.

De Jong said the problem is a complex one, "but it is very much on our radar screen."

ggranger@newwestnewsleader.com

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