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'We have no choice': B.C. premier explains rising cost of Surrey hospital as locals demand more care

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Despite being the second-largest city in British Columbia, with a population forecast to overtake that of Vancouver in the coming decades, the City of Surrey doesn't have a Level 1 trauma centre within its boundaries. 

When the new hospital that broke ground Tuesday is completed in 2029, it still won't.

It's an issue the Surrey Board of Trade has raised alarm over as recently as February, when it published a report on the city's hospital needs that asked the government to ensure the city has the facilities necessary to treat the province's three leading causes of death: heart attack, stroke and trauma. 

On Tuesday, B.C. Premier David Eby, Health Minister Adrian Dix and other provincial officials provided an update on plans to build a new hospital in Surrey. 

Construction of the new facility is now expected to be finished in 2029, rather than 2027, with the first patients being treated there in 2030.

The price tag has also grown substantially, from an estimated $1.72 billion last year to $2.88 billion today.

Eby attributed the cost increases to higher costs in the construction industry, generally. The growing cost of materials and a shortage of essential labour have combined to make both public- and private-sector projects more expensive, he said.

He said the bids the province received for the project left it with two choices: to delay building a hospital and hope costs come down or to pay the increased costs and get the project done.

"That's what we have to do," he said, referring to the second option.

"We have no choice. We have to deliver for the people of Surrey. We have to deliver health care for them. And, we have to maintain our high standards. We weren't going to compromise on what was available in the building. We weren't going to reduce the cancer centre. We weren't going to reduce the number of beds in order to find cost savings."

While Tuesday's announcement didn't reduce the offerings that had previously been announced for the new hospital, it also didn't expand them.

The Surrey Board of Trade responded to the news with a statement reminding the province that there's "still time" to include services for trauma, heart attacks and strokes in the new building.

“Surrey needs more health-care infrastructure,” said Anita Huberman, the organization's president and CEO, in the statement.

"While we wait for this hospital to be built, exponential population growth continues."

She noted that patients requiring treatment for those three conditions must currently cross the Fraser River to receive care.

“There is still time to add these services into the second hospital,” said Huberman. “As it stands, there is no emergency plan that addresses how residents living south of the Fraser will access life-saving services in the event of a natural disaster.”

POLITICAL REACTION

Opposition leader Kevin Falcon lamented the premier's news conference on social media as "an announcement of a re-announcement," describing the Surrey hospital project as "already more than $1 billion over budget and years behind schedule." 

"Eby and the NDP continue to fail residents of Surrey," the BC United leader wrote.

For their part, the governing New Democrats issued a news release reminding the public that it was Falcon – when he was finance minister under the previous BC Liberal government in 2012 – who announced the sale of provincially owned land that had been designated for a new hospital in Surrey.

Asked by CTV News in June whether his party – which rebranded from the BC Liberals to BC United earlier this year – bears some responsibility for the hospital crisis in Surrey, Falcon acknowledged that it did. 

"Let's just assume there's enough blame to go around," he said at the time.

Both parties have underfunded health care in Surrey relative to Vancouver over the years, according to an analysis by the Surrey Hospitals Foundation. Fraser Health residents see a per capita spend of $2,229 per year in provincial funds, compared to $3,677 per capita for Vancouver Coastal Health residents. 

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Penny Daflos

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