Concerns from directors of the South Okanagan Similkameen Hospital District were aired on Thursday, Jan. 21 regarding Interior Health’s annual budget request and how $1.4 million of that request would be spent.
The board voted to deny the $1.4 million, while approving the rest of their $4,387,200 budget funding request for 2021, which includes $460,000 in improvements to the Princeton General Hospital, and $760,000 for the Summerland Health Centre.
The excluded $1.4 million was marked for Primary Care Networks (PCN) in the South Okanagan Similkameen, but the exact locations and expenses are not outlined in the budget.
Director Ron Obirek was the only director on the board of the SOSHD to vote against excluding the PCN request.
The PCN project is a joint effort between Interior Health, the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice and the Penticton Indian Band and approved by the Ministry of Health in 2018. The Osoyoos Indian Band, Lower Similkameen Indian Band and Upper Similkameen Indian Band are also collaborating on the PCN project.
Interior Health notes in their presentation to the SOSHD board that space has been identified in existing IH facilities for the development of the SOS PCN, with funds going towards the renovations necessary to offer expanded service and staffing.
A large part of the concern stemmed from the vague nature of the request for funding for what it would be used for, as well as the potential financial impact on the SOSHD’s reserves and taxes.
“Typically in the past, we’ve paid for tangible assets,” said RDOS chief administrative officer Bill Newell. “Information technology was a new ask just a couple of years ago.”
Directors were assured that the funds were not directed for a single community, but would be distributed to improve care throughout the South Okanagan Similkameen.
The board wanted to see a more detailed plan before they could approve the request, and for Interior Health to include the district in their plans and discussions on primary care in the region.
It was noted that if IH received Ministry of Health approval and provided the board with more detailed plans laying out where the funds would go, that the request could be reconsidered and added back into the budget.
According to the SOS Division, there have been 12,000 individuals in the RDOS who do not have a family doctor due to their previous one retiring without a replacement, or having recently arrived in the region.
To address the ongoing lack of doctors, divisions across Interior Health have been working on a collaborative recruitment strategy, while the local South Okanagan Similkameen Division is working with Health Match BC, the UBC Okanagan South Family Medicine Residency program hosted at Penticton Regional Hospital and with the Ministry of Health efforts to develop Primary Care Networks.
The funding request and the PCN request by Interior Health is separate from the SOS Division’s work to establish Primary Care Clinics like Ponderosa in Penticton, and from their request previously to the SOSHD for additional funding for physician recruitment.
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