B.C. Premier Christy Clark promised $80 million for the first of two phases to upgrade Royal Inland Hospital Wednesday.
That rough estimate — give or take a few million — should see the planning and construction of a clinical building, medical teaching space and parkade out front of the hospital.
"This money has been budgeted in our three-year capital plan," she said at a press conference in the RIH boardroom.
"This project is going ahead."
That first phase is expected to open the way for the second part of the project, estimated at $320 million, in the coming years, she said.
"It's notionally set aside in the long-term plan, but not in the three-year plan," said Clark. That second phase includes the construction of a patient-care tower and a new structure on the site of the alumni tower.
She credited area politicians with keeping Royal Inland Hospital's needs in the government's ear for years, particularly Liberal MLAs Kevin Krueger and Terry Lake.
Krueger commented to her back in 1996, when they were both first elected, that something needed to be done about the hospital.
Krueger, who is not running for re-election in spring, was emotional as he got up to the podium to speak. He took Clark with him.
"I didn't want her behind me," he said.
"This is a dream come true," Krueger continued, comparing the announcement to a wedding, and that the focus should be on the bride.
"I'm looking forward to the honeymoon," Clark joked back.
Krueger assured those present that the other $320 million is on the books.
"We're going to get the whole enchilada," he said.
The clinical services building will provide outpatient services such as cardiology, neurology, renal and respiratory programs. It could also include teaching space for the UBC medical program.
Mayor Peter Milobar noted the renovations will also mean easier access for anyone trying to get to the hospital from Columbia Street, as there will be a street-level elevator instead of the current stairs.
Imagine someone trying to get up those stairs with a walker, or riding a scooter up Third Avenue dodging traffic to get to a hospital entrance, he said.
"Access to the hospital cannot be underestimated," he said. The same holds true for parking and the problems that has caused at RIH.
The Thompson Regional Hospital District has already begun taxing to set aside its 40-per-cent share of the capital costs — a move that made it that much easier for Victoria to say yes to getting the RIH plans moving forward, he said.
Interior Health director David Gillespie noted that Royal Inland serves a large area, not just Kamloops.
"It's so important to remember although this is great news for Kamloops, it's not just for Kamloops," he said.
"This is a landmark day for Interior Health."
But RIH wasn't at the top of Interior Health's project priority list. In fact, Penticton's hospital was number one, while Kamloops was ranked third.
Clark said Royal Inland's upgrade is something that needs to be done.
"This project is here because it is a high priority," she said when asked whether Kamloops was jumping the queue ahead of Penticton.
"This is something Kevin Krueger has been working on since 1996."
There are still some details of the hospital expansion business plan to be finalized before design and construction begin.
In the back of the room, members of the B.C. Nurses' Union regional executive stood holding small signs that called for a focus on dealing with understaffing and overcrowding.
BCNU shop steward for Royal Inland Tracy Quewezance said safe staffing levels are the union's top concern.
The union supports the start of more expansion at RIH, but also wants to see more staffing improvements and less patient crowding.
"They opened 30 beds at Ponderosa and we're still over census every day," she said. As she spoke, the hospital had 25 to 30 patients too many, Quewezance said.
A couple of aspiring politicians were also in the crowd. Newly announced Kamloops-South Thompson Liberal candidate Todd Stone stood on the sidelines during the announcement.
And in the back was the NDP's Tom Friedman, who pointed out that Clark had commented it shouldn't have taken so long for the RIH announcement to happen.
"We had an economic boom until 2008, and it's taken until now for it to be announced," he said.
Friedman wouldn't promise his party would follow through on Clark's commitment if the NDP take power in the 2013 provincial election, although he did say he would advocate for it.
"I can't say there won't be other priorities," he said.
"All I can commit to is I will advocate strongly for this."