THE CAMPAIGN to replace Mills Memorial Hospital has entered a new phase with regional health care officials now reaching out to northwestern B.C. residents.
Just underway is an online petition which the health care officials hope will build on the momentum to convince the provincial government to place the replacement project on its list of capital expenditure commitments.
Hand in hand with the petition is the formation of an advocacy committee for Mills Memorial, led by the North West Regional Hospital District, a regional taxation authority headquartered in Terrace and which would contribute to construction through property taxes from around the region. The district is governed by a board made up of municipal and regional district representatives stretching from the coast east to Houston.
And with the advocacy committee now in place, the hospital district is attracting support for a new Mills from regional First Nations and other groups.
Kitselas First Nation chief councillor Joe Bevan said signing on to the replacement campaign was done without hesitation.
“Our daughter was born there. The hospital is vitally important to the area,” he said. “It goes beyond Terrace. Whether it’s the Gitxsan Nation or out to Prince Rupert, people rely on the hospital for medical services. When they arrive at their door, they don’t say ‘no’,” Bevan said of Mills.
He said the prospect of adding trauma service functions to Mills as part of the replacement project would reduce the number of people from the region who now need to fly elsewhere for advanced care.
Bevan was among a group of local leaders accompanying provincial finance minister Mike de Jong on a tour of Mills earlier this year in which de Jong saw first hand inadequacies such as lack of washrooms and showers for patients and crowded conditions within the four-bed rooms.
Bevan said he’ll also be bending the ear of candidates from all parties in the Skeena riding as the provincial election of next May draws closer.
“This is a non-political issue,” said Bevan. “When it comes to something affecting your life, politics falls by the wayside.”
The prospect of having improved trauma services at a new Mills Memorial also has the backing of the Nisga’a Nation through Nisga’a Lisims Government president Eva Clayton.
“An improved facility at Mills Memorial would significantly improve the delivery of health services to the 3,000 Nisga’a citizens residing within the [North West Regional Hospital] District,” said Clayton.
“Most importantly, this initiative can save lives.”
One of the more easterly board members of the North West Regional Hospital District, Telkwa village councillor Brad Layton, said he can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a robust regional hospital such as the facility envisioned with a new Mills Memorial.
“People here say if we support Terrace than our own hospital will lose out. But that’s not the case at all,” said Layton.
“Terrace is centrally located in the region and it makes sense to have a trauma centre at Mills. What happens now is that people are stabilized and then flown down south. Imagine if we had trauma services up here,” he said.
Layton is particularly concerned that a new Mills is not on the provincial government’s list of major projects and that given the lengthy lead time to have a new Mills approved and constructed, it could be a decade or more before a new facility might be ready.
With the industrial nature of northwestern employment and the prospect of more development, it’s hard enough as it is to provide advanced services, let alone what would be the case when those developments do take place, Layton said.
A new Mills with enhanced services would not only avoid people having to fly south in the regular course of seeking treatment, but would ease situations for patients flown down in emergency situations, who are subsequently discharged with little or no support or means to return home, he added.
“You’re standing on the curb,” said Layton of those circumstances.
From Smithers or Telkwa, it’s a 14-hour drive to Vancouver after being discharged compared to the relatively short distance to Terrace, he added.
Like Bevan, Layton has toured Mills Memorial and took in the lack of washrooms for patients, crowded and inadequate laboratory space for technicians.
He also noted the many wooden surfaces in Mills which make it almost impossible to meet current hygienic and cleaning standards.
“That certainly wouldn’t fly down south,” said Layton.
The online petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/replace-mills-memorial-hospital.
The hospital district’s advocacy committee will deliver the petition early next year to Premier Christy Clark, finance minister Mike de Jong and health minister Terry Lake.
That’s to coincide with a vital first meeting between regional health care officials and the provincial health ministry to sketch out plans for a business case study which will better define the costs of a new Mills and the services, particularly trauma, it may provide.