Four million reasons why hospital belongs in Skidegate: band councilor

  • Dec. 5, 2007 1:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret–The site Skidegate has offered for the new south-end hospital is respectful, healing and a good compromise, says band councillor Richard Russ. Mr. Russ explained the benefits of the site to the Observer on Monday, saying that Skidegate is ready to share its vision with the rest of the islands, and talk about why it makes more sense to build the new hospital on the reserve than in the neighbouring village of Queen Charlotte, where the existing hospital has stood since 1955. “Skidegate has been respectful and quiet for the past year or so about the hospital but it’s become apparent that it was time to speak up,” said Mr. Russ, who in the past month has travelled to Vancouver to make a presentation about Skidegate’s proposal to Northern Health, and to Terrace, where he spoke to the North West Regional Hospital District board. “I’m open that this article creates a lot of discussion around coffee tables. If there’s a reason for avoiding Skidegate, let’s hear it.” Mr. Russ presents many arguments for building in Skidegate. The site the village is offering is on the reserve’s western boundary, on a hill just east of the ferry terminal, and only a five to seven minute drive from the existing site. If the hospital is built on this site, it will be closer to more people than the Queen Charlotte site. Besides the growing population of Skidegate, it will be a shorter drive for residents of Miller Creek, Lawn Hill, Tlell and Sandspit. The boundary site is a compromise on Skidegate’s part, Mr. Russ said. The band council would prefer to see the hospital built at the Balance Rock site (a substantial amount of planning was done in the mid-1990s for this site), or a central spot like the ballfield next to the recreation hall. However, band council members have put forward the boundary site in recognition of Queen Charlotte’s needs, he said. Skidegate was also inspired by the example of the north-end communities, which worked together to build a hospital that will open in the next few months right between Masset and Old Massett, Mr. Russ said. The north end also came up with an original financing arrangement, with the communities borrowing the money to build the facility, which they will then lease back to Northern Health. “We totally admire what the north end has done,” he said. “They rolled up their sleeves and did what they had to do. Way to go, kudos to them.” Then, there are the financial benefits. Health Canada has been talking to the band council about expanding the village’s health centre, which offers dental, home care and counselling services, Mr. Russ said, and is prepared to spend $2.4 to $2.9 million building a diagnostic and treatment centre. After learning last year that Northern Health planned to replace the Queen Charlotte hospital, Skidegate decided it would make sense if those Health Canada dollars could be put towards a hospital which could serve all the south-end communities. Health Canada is excited about the possibility, Mr. Russ said, and the band council is confident the money could be put towards the hospital project if Northern Health agrees to build it in Skidegate. The band council is prepared to contribute $400,000 to the project out of its capital budget, he said, and has estimated that $900,000 worth of PST and GST savings could be realized due to the reserve location. It all adds up to between $3.7 million and $4.2 million worth of savings on a building that will probably cost in the area of $16 million. “If you just apply business sense and logic, there’s four million fantastic reasons Skidegate should be involved in this project,” Mr. Russ said. There are other considerations. Mr. Russ points out that Skidegate has a safe and reliable water source, which produces much more water than the village currently needs, so it could easily supply a hospital. The village also has a new sewage treatment system. The site is well above the tsunami danger zone, and is close enough to the ferry terminal that Sandspit residents could leave their vehicles on Moresby Island and walk to the hospital. Skidegate residents, with their higher rates of diabetes, tend to be bigger users of health care services, Mr. Russ pointed out. Skidegate residents also traditionally make up most of the hospital’s long-term care patients. There’s also the fact that for the last 52 years, and even longer, Skidegate residents have had to travel to Queen Charlotte for medical attention, he said. Mr. Russ said Skidegate was surprised to learn last year that Queen Charlotte had been talking to Northern Health about the hospital replacement and that everyone involved was assuming the new hospital would be built on the same site. Skidegate met with Queen Charlotte council members shortly after they were elected two years ago, he said. The two communities discussed several items of mutual concern, including the hospital. After that, he said, Skidegate heard nothing from Queen Charlotte about the hospital. And while the site selection is clearly creating strong feelings in both towns, Skidegate and Queen Charlotte representatives have never once met face to face to talk about the issue. “I don’t know why we haven’t been able to sit down across from each other and talk about it,” Mr. Russ said. “We’ve invited the mayor of Queen Charlotte and her council to come and discuss this with us. We haven’t had any response.” Queen Charlotte mayor Carol Kulesha, when asked about Northern Health’s recent offer to facilitate between the two communities, said Queen Charlotte is “very interested in any discussions with Skidegate on establishment of any new servce and how we might work with Skidegate.” When asked if she had called Skidegate to start discussions, Mayor Kulesha replied “No.” Meanwhile, Skidegate is now awaiting the results of an engineering study of the two sites commissioned by Northern Health, which Mr. Russ expects will show the Skidegate site to be superior. “We’re darn sure that our site will come out more favourable,” he said, pointing out the cramped parking at the Queen Charlotte site and the steep hill behind the hospital. He also wonders how the recent fuel spill at the Charlotte medical clinic will affect the site. “I look at what Queen Charlotte offers and I look at what we offer. I’m prepared to let the chips fall where they may. In poker talk, we’re holding a pair of kings. It could still be beat, but it’s still a very good hand.” Mr. Russ urges any islanders who have questions about the issue to talk to him, and said he is willing to make his presentation to any communities who would like to hear it. “I would like the final words of the write-up to be, when you talk about marriage, any union, all you can expect is to be met half way,” he adds, referring to the site’s location between the two villages. “Half way is fair, and that’s what we’re asking for.” Meanwhile, North West Regional Hospital District administrator Joan Rysavy said most of the 27 members of that board weren’t aware there was a dispute about the replacement hospital’s site until they heard Mr. Russ’s presentation at their meeting in Terrace Nov. 23. Board chair Tony Briglio allowed Mr. Russ to make a 15-minute presentation about Skidegate’s proposal after Mr. Russ called him the day before the meeting. The North West Regional Hospital District will be providing 40 percent of the money to build the hospital, and will have to approve the site selected by Northern Health. Five islanders sit on this board: Queen Charlotte mayor Carol Kulesha, Masset mayor Barry Pages, Port Clements mayor Cory Delves, and regional district directors Ian Hetman and Travis Glasman. “The Queen Charlotte hospital is a deficient building and it needs to be replaced,” Ms Rysavy said. “It’s a priority of the board.” Until Nov. 23, the board had simply assumed the hospital would be built in Queen Charlotte, Ms Rysavy said, and no other site had been discussed. “It was interesting to be hearing (Mr. Russ’s) perspective to be quite honest, because we hadn’t heard that before, most of the board members,” she said. “It was a bit of a surprise to hear about that other proposal.” Northern Health has heard from both communities about the site. The board met in November but did not discuss the hospital because the engineering report was not ready. Northern Health also wants to work with the two villages on some “lateral thinking” about where health services could be located, board chair Charles Jago said last week. Spokesperson Mark Karjaluoto says the health authority won’t have anything new to say about the site selection until after its next board meeting in January.