Premier Christy Clark at the ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at the Penticton Regional Hospital.

Premier Christy Clark at the ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at the Penticton Regional Hospital.

Premier Christy Clark at Penticton Regional Hospital ceremony

Dignitaries gathered at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Penticton Regional Hospital expansion project.

Years of hard work and advocacy by groups throughout the South Okanagan and Similkameen came to fruition on July 12, as dignitaries gathered at a ceremonial groundbreaking for thePenticton Regional Hospital expansion project.

For Janice Perrino, watching Premier Christy Clark throw out a shovel of sand to mark the occasion brought a sense of completion. She’s been deeply involved with the project for years, both as executive director of the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation and during her time as Summerland mayor.

“This day is truly the top end for me. It is hard to go, but to see this day come is wonderful,” said Perrino, who finishes with the foundation on Friday, before moving to Nanaimo to take up a new job with their hospital foundation.

Penticton City Councillor Andre Martin is excited to see the work started on the expansion.

“It’s much needed by the growing population in the region. This is a 50 or 60-year-old hospital, so it is time to get it upgraded,” said Martin. “It’s been a long time, but it is a big project, $320 million, you just don’t find that everyday in the budget. They have to plan them. It is our turn now, so let’s make the best of it.”

In her remarks, Clark commented that the province managed to find the funding without deficit financing.

“For the first time in a long time, B.C. isn’t borrowing to buy the groceries. We only borrow so that we can build,” said Clark. “A legacy of a hospital is a lot bigger legacy to leave than a debt.”

Clark also said the new hospital should help with the ongoing problem of attracting and keeping doctors in smaller cities and towns.

“I don’t think there is any better way to attract great doctors, great nurses, great health care workers, than having a world-class hospital like this one is going to be,” said Clark. She added that while attracting doctors is going to continue to be a challenge, the province is working on several fronts to address the problem.

That includes expanded space in the expansion for UBC Faculty of Medicine program. By training doctors outside the Lower Mainland, Clark said the province is working towards a better retention rate through doctors staying in the areas where they trained.

“We have had a lot of success at that in B.C.,” said Clark. “All these changes have meant that we are doing better at attracting and keeping doctors in smaller communities.”

The hospital opened its doors in 1953, which Perrino notes was when television was just becoming commercially viable, explaining that staff have a hard time integrating newertechnologies in the old building.

“The expansion of our hospital will have long-lasting impacts on our communities through job creation  and improved patient experiences.

The 26,170 square metre patient care tower will bring together outpatient care services into one building, provide five modern operating rooms, triple the size of the area used to sterilize and reprocess medical devices, and add three floors of single occupancy rooms with private washrooms. It is expected to be complete in 2020.