Work began on a new emergency department at Eagle Ridge Hospital Friday, a project the province says will help the facility provide better care to those in the Tri-Cities.

The expansion will more than double the number of treatment spaces at the ER from 19 to 39, Minister of Health Adrian Dix said, calling the work of hospital staff "exceptional."

"What we owe them, it seems to me, is outstanding facilities. We owe them places where they can do their work and help us get well."

When it first opened its doors in 1984, Eagle Ridge's emergency department saw about 20,000 visits per year. That number currently sits about 50,000 and is expected to grow to 68,000 by 2030.

"We are treating emergency care in this region as a priority, so people will be able to receive health-care services in a state-of-the-art facility, and health-care workers will have the room they need to help patients get better, quicker," Dix said.

The B.C. government has committed $22.6 million to the project through Fraser Health. The Eagle Ridge Foundation raised $5 million of its own.

Eagle Ridge emergency department expansion

Plans for the new ER were first announced by previous Liberal government back in March 2017, but the NDP said that announcement "left unresolved questions about the province's share of the funding" because it tied the money to land sales.

"We are proceeding. It doesn't depend on any particular sale of land," Dix said. "We've identified the money and the budget and we're going ahead."

Friday's announcement was welcome by politicians who represent the Tri-Cities.

"The expansion of the Eagle Ridge Hospital emergency department is essential to reducing overcrowding and allowing our dedicated health-care workers to continue to provide a great service," said Mike Farnworth, the MLA for Port Coquitlam. "I'm proud our government is moving forward with this project."

Eagle Ridge ER

Farnworth's remarks were echoed by members of the medical community, including Fraser Health president and CEO Dr. Victoria Lee, who said the expansion will allow hospital staff to "build upon the exceptional care they already deliver."

Mike Mostrenko, who grew up in Port Moody and has been an ER doctor at the hospital for the past 20 years, called it "an exciting day for Eagle Ridge.

"I'm confident that you'll be so proud of the department when it opens."

Construction is expected to be complete in late 2020.