PC leadership candidate John Ottenheimer says if he becomes premier his government will create a brand-new department focused exclusively on one thing: the health and well-being of senior citizens.

Ottenheimer revealed the pledge during a news conference Thursday in Corner Brook, where some residents were more interested in his views on a long-promised government pledge on a new hospital.

Ottenheimer, who served as minister of health during the Danny Williams government, said there is a need to address seniors' issues by putting them under the umbrella of a department that has a sole mandate.

"It will be an independent department to deal exclusively with the needs and issues of our seniors in the province," Ottenheimer said.

Ottenheimer said government must do more to ensure that seniors can live healthy, full lives in their own homes for as long as possible.

"It is our duty to ensure our mothers and fathers live out their lives fully and with dignity," he said.

Ottenheimer, who is competing with former cabinet ministers Paul Davis and Steve Kent for the Sept. 13 leadership vote, said the standalone department would draw resources from the existing departments of health, housing, justice and advanced education and skills.

Ottenheimer's health statement also pledged action on mental health and addictions, including replacing what he called "aging" infrastructure and revamping programs in the health and justice systems.

Plans to run in Humber East

Ottenheimer chose to make the health care statement in Corner Brook, where he said he will seek a seat in the House of Assembly if he becomes PC leader — and thus the next premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.

He said he will seek the seat of Humber East, currently held by Premier Tom Marshall, who plans to resign after the party picks a new leader.

"I need a seat. My two opponents are already members of the legislature. I am not," Ottenheimer said.

"Premier Marshall has made it clear that he will perhaps not stay around a significant period of time after this process is completed. And I'm anxious to get on with government. I'm anxious to get on with leadership."

Quizzed about hospital

Meanwhile, Ottenheimer was quizzed about his point of view on the replacement of Western Memorial Regional Hospital, which has been a pledge of the government since 2007, even though only groundwork has so far been launched.

Ottenheimer had nothing to say about the promise until advocate Gerard Parsons asked him.

"The premier has committed to it and I stand behind that decision entirely," Ottenheimer said in response.

Parsons said he was disappointed with Ottenheimer's remarks.

"I honestly thought he was going to come here today and mention the hospital, but it wasn't even mentioned," Parsons said.