More than a dozen new beds will be added to Vernon Jubilee Hospital by 2015.
Provincial Liberal Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid and Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster unveiled plans that will finish the top two floors of the Polson Tower, which will allow for more beds at the cramped hospital.
MacDiarmid said funding for the $29.6-million project "is committed and we are going ahead."
The province will pay $22 million with the remaining $7 million coming from the North Okanagan Columbia Shuswap Regional Hospital District and Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation.
While the two floors will house
60 beds, only 14 will be new.
MacDiarmid said 46 beds in the old section of the hospital will be closed and moved to the $180-million tower that officially opened last October.
"What we are moving to here is mostly single rooms," said MacDiarmid, adding the older rooms have up to four people in them.
By providing single rooms, MacDiarmid said patients will rest better and be less prone to contract infection, which will reduce their stay in the hospital and save the health-care system money.
While the new beds may not seem like a large number considering the chronic overcrowding at the North Okanagan's largest medical centre, Dr. Mike Concannon said it is significant for the hospital, staff and patients.
"That's a huge upgrade," said Concannon who is the vice-president of medical staff. "That is a big win for this hospital. That's 46 patients who will be taken from an outdated ward. That ward was built back in the '40s."
Concannon agreed that having single rooms instead of group rooms plays a big role in patient well-being.
Work on the project is expected to begin this fall, with patients moving into the new rooms in the summer of 2015.
However, once the capital work is done, the new floors must be staffed.
"There will be a budget to open those beds, absolutely," MacDiarmid said. "People in Vernon can count on it that this project is going ahead and the people that they love will get the care they need."
While the announcement is good news for the North Okanagan, South Okanagan residents will have to keep waiting for much needed improvements to the Penticton hospital.
Dr. Sarah Broder, a respirologist at the Penticton hospital, vented her frustration this week that Vernon received funding firstâ€š even though Penticton is Interior Health's No. 1 priority.
Vernon Jubilee Hospital is fifth on IH's priority list.
"Somehow these get funded, and we thought, 'We're number 1 and how come they keep leapfrogging ahead of us?'" Broder, who started at the hospital in 1997, said this week.
Upgrades are badly needed at the facility, which was built in 1951. Doctors are working in cramped rooms, treating patients in surgery rooms that were designed to house only a bed and a lamp.
The facility is equipped with old ventilation systems that provide little infection control capacity, and the layout of the 60-year-old hospital forces patients - some of them with oxygen tanks and IV stands - to walk long distances for tests and scans.
Some examination rooms are so small that patients are moved around in a manner that at times causes them to block doorways while they're being examined.
MacDiarmid said she has toured the Penticton facility and understands the need, but there is currently no funding for the requested $300-million care tower.
"This has been a top priority for Interior Health for some time. We are aware of the need there," said MacDiarmid, adding she supports the tower, but is unable to make any sort of announcement at this time.
"They really need the tower, but we have to find room in our capital budget," she said. "We still have lots of work to do."