B.C. Premier John Horgan, left, and Health Minister Adrian Dix listen during an announcement to mark the start of construction on the redevelopment and modernization of the Burnaby Hospital, in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday, May 30, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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

Hospitals at Clearwater, Port McNeill closed temporarily, Burnaby gets $1.3 billion upgrade

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 left residents “perplexed,” said Horgan 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.

Opposition BC 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.

Neither the mayor of Clearwater, Merlin Blackwell, nor Gaby Wickstrom, the mayor of Port McNeill, were available Monday to comment on the ER closures.

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.

—The Canadian Press

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