British Columbia

B.C. starts Burnaby Hospital upgrade as rural hospitals face weekend ward closures

British Columbia's hospital system is "teetering" and in need of more federal funding, Premier John Horgan said as he addressed recent temporary ward closures at hospitals in rural communities.

$1.3 billion project includes expanded ER and new cancer treatment centre

Premier John Horgan, third from left, tours the grounds of the Burnaby Hospital on Monday. The premier took part in a sod-turning ceremony to mark the beginning of an extensive upgrade to the existing facility. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

British Columbia's hospital system is "teetering" and in need of more federal funding, Premier John Horgan said as he addressed recent temporary ward closures at hospitals in rural communities.

Such closures have left residents "perplexed," Horgan said Monday at a sod-turning ceremony marking the start of the long-awaited upgrade of Burnaby Hospital in Metro Vancouver.

Horgan said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect on hospital staffing across B.C. and efforts to increase federal health-care funding to the provinces and territories have so far been fruitless.

"What my message to British Columbians is [is that] the system is vibrant, but the system is teetering and we need the support," he said, adding the premiers and territorial leaders would lobby the federal government for increased funding at meetings in Victoria in July.

The $1.3-billion upgrade will give Burnaby Hospital a bigger emergency department, new cancer treatment centre, and a mental-health and substance-use in-patient unit. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said Horgan's health-care comments missed the mark, as he highlighted the New Democrat government's plan to spend $789 million to tear down and replace the Royal B.C. Museum.

"Can the premier not see the absurdity of plunging forward with his billion-dollar vanity museum project at a time when emergency rooms are shutting down and one out of five British Columbians cannot even access a family physician?'' Falcon said.

Horgan said what is happening in the health sector is also occurring in other workplaces.

"I know British Columbians are perplexed and concerned when we have closures of emergency rooms for brief periods of time because of staff shortages," he said. "That's a direct result of appropriate responses to a global pandemic. We are seeing shortages not just in our health-care sectors but right across the economy."

Health Minister Adrian Dix said in the legislature that B.C. experienced 16,000 absences among health workers last week due to COVID-19, a number well above normal in pre-pandemic times.

B.C. has increased the number of health-care workers by 30,000 since the New Democrats were elected five years ago, he said.

But despite that increase, emergency wards in hospitals at Clearwater, Port McNeill and elsewhere were closed temporarily last weekend, said Horgan, and patients were told to seek treatment at hospitals in larger communities.

Horgan said the $1.3-billion Burnaby upgrade, the hospital's first major redevelopment in 40 years, includes an expanded emergency department, a new cancer treatment centre and two towers, housing more operating rooms and 399 new beds.


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