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Seeing new hospital tower through remains priority

By Don Fennell and Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 3:14 PDT, Tue October 13, 2020

Richmond North Centre

The home of the Richmond Hospital, Sea Island and parts of the downtown core, Richmond North Centre is a riding that juggles a variety of issues. Created in the 2015 redistribution of Richmond ridings, the seat has been held by MLA Teresa Wat of the BC Liberals since its it was first contested in 2017.

Seeking her third consecutive term as a Richmond MLA, Wat says construction on the new acute care tower needs to get underway as soon as possible, with funds allocated to the important project.

“I will work to ensure the project gets built, and that it gets underway now,” she says.

The NDP originally announced its commitment to replace the patient care tower in March 2018. At that time, an eager crowd packed into the hospital atrium was told a business plan was expected to be completed in 12 to 18 months.

Then on July 2 of this year, the day after Canadians celebrated our nation’s 153rd year of confederation, BC’s governing NDP announced its commitment to building a new state-of-the-art emergency department and intensive care unit for Richmond. The news was long-awaited, with detailed planning expected to be completed in September before proceeding to procurement and, finally, construction.

But along the way Premier John Horgan called a snap provincial election for Oct. 24. 

Replacing the aging hospital follows years of angst. Opened in 1966, Richmond Hospital’s operating rooms are only half the size of today’s standard and at risk in a flood or tsunami. And a structural assessment of the original tower deemed it to be at a high risk of widespread damage or structural failure after an earthquake. 

As the structure continues to age, so too does a growing list of associated challenges. Elevators in its acute care tower suddenly stopped working one day a few years ago, forcing administrators to think quickly. Fortunately, they were able to call on a unique source for help: the movie industry supplied suitable cables until the elevators could be permanently repaired. 

During the 54 years the hospital has been open, Richmond’s population has also more than quadrupled to over 200,000 residents. The hospital also serves South Vancouver, Delta, Vancouver International Airport and BC Ferries.

The replacement of the so-called north tower also addresses other deficiencies including outdated patient care delivery areas. Richmond Hospital currently has 240 beds, with 108 in the original six-storey north tower which houses surgical suites, in-patient units, a mammography clinic, cancer care, medical imaging and administrative, academic and support services. The new emergency department and intensive care unit will bring more services and better care. Double the existing floor space, the nine-floor tower will include a fully-equipped medical imaging department, intensive care unit, and pharmacy. The new concept also includes renovating the south tower to create new in-patient psychiatry and psychiatric units.

BC Green Party candidate Vernon Wang calls the hospital the biggest issue facing residents in the riding, because it’s “already overloaded.” It’s a sentiment shared by BC NDP candidate Jaeden Dela Torre, who says upgrades to the hospital are crucial to the success of Richmond North Centre.

In 2017, the Richmond Hospital Foundation commissioned an independent public opinion poll to better understand what citizens of Richmond felt were the most important publicity-funded infrastructure needs. Eighty-five per cent placed a new hospital tower among the top two projects, and 52 per cent rated it as the No. 1 need.

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