Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file)

Island’s cardiac care gap sparks hard push for major Nanaimo hospital expansion

New patient tower, cardiac services and cancer centre on the wish list for central and north Island

Does Vancouver Island need a full-service hospital north of the Malahat?

A number of elected officials from the area seem to think so.

The Regional District of Nanaimo is expected to ask the province to invest in a major expansion of health-care services at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

RDN directors gave unanimous approval to a recommendation asking B.C. Premier John Horgan, health minister Adrian Dix and finance minister Selina Robinson to commit to an improvement plan that includes a new patient tower and diagnostic treatment centre, to be completed in a timeline of five to eight years.

Improvements would include cardiac service and a comprehensive cancer service centre.

Dr. David Coupland, NRGH medical staff president, said programs, funding and facilities have not matched medical need and population growth in the central and north Island over the past 20 years.

Coupland said the population for the north and central regions is estimated at 450,000 — more than the 440,000 in the south Island. The emergency department at NRGH is the busiest on the Island, he said.

Acute care demands will continue to increase based on population and demographics, Coupland said. He detailed a five-year full-service hospital plan and told directors about issues related to care for people suffering from heart issues.

“There’s one big critical care gap that remains for our really sick people and that’s cardiology and a cardiac [catheterization] lab,” said Coupland. “It’s the biggest care gap between central Island and south Island. The logistics of it are often patients with heart attacks and heart disease cannot get the care they need when they need it and there’s more harm and we do have poorer outcomes in central and north Island, there’s no doubt about it.”

Coupland said the area’s population is the largest he knows of without a cardiology/cath lab. Any population over 350,000 needs such facilities, he said, and smaller populations in Europe, the U.S. and Ontario have access to such services.

“The reason for that is you have to get to the cath lab quickly when you have a big heart attack,” said Coupland.

Ed Mayne, Parksville mayor and RDN director, said executing the plan is a huge investment and wondered how the cost would be distributed.

The board will also vote on a recommendation directing the regional hospital district select committee to engage with groups regarding advocacy for capital project funding at NRGH.

The plan has the full support of Island Health’s senior administration, Coupland said.

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