Search begins for new Valley hospital site

Possible sites for a new hospital are at the top of the agenda for the Cowichan Valley Regional Hospital District as it issues a call for interested property owners to come forward.

The hospital district last week issued an Expression of Interest inviting landowners to submit properties for consideration.

"The purpose of the EOI is to identify landowners with properties that meet our site selection criteria and that fit into long term plans for the eventual replacement of Cowichan District Hospital," Rob Hutchins, hospital board chair, said. "We want to ensure that we do our part to ensure the right piece of property is available should a new hospital for the Cowichan Valley be approved in the future."

Planning for a new hospital has been going on for some time and about four years ago, it was decided that "the best move forward is to get a piece of land and build a new hospital in a new location rather than try to renovate, add on or build a new one on the present site," he said.

"The present site is too small. Acquiring a suitable site for a new hospital is one step in a planning process which remains in the very early stages. A new hospital for the Cowichan Valley would require regional and provincial government approval. At this time no approvals or funding are in place," he said.

But that doesn’t mean the regional hospital district isn’t saving.

There’s $12 million in the kitty already, with $5 million more to come this year, Hutchins explained.

Public discussion is also underway. Last December there were four public meetings to get feedback on what people wanted in a site for a new hospital.

Criteria were finalized, then sent to the board in January. The hospital board also went out and asked a real estate consultant, McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd., for help in identification of appropriate properties for consideration.

"Our staff now have been working on expressions of interest," Hutchins said. "We’ve already received a number of unsolicited enquiries. About five or six different properties have come forward, with owners saying, ‘Hey, we think this would be worthy of consideration for a new hospital site.’" The board must act fairly quickly if it is to have a choice among good sites.

"We’ve had a fair amount of growth in our Valley in recent years and it’s ongoing. Potential valuable sites for a hospital are being utilized for other development purposes. In our mind, it’s better to acquire that site earlier to get the potential property put aside for hospital development,"

Hutchins said. The process will reduce the number of potential sites to two or three and then those will come to the regional hospital board for a decision. "We definitely hope to conclude that by the end of the year, that would be a realistic timeline," Hutchins said.

Choosing a site doesn’t mean a new hospital is a done deal. The region must compete for Ministry of Health funding with other projects from across the province.

"Our goal is to be as shovelready as possible. We want to have a significant portion of our funding in place by the time the hospital is built," Hutchins said.