The provincial government recently released a 10-year cancer strategy amid efforts by local officials to get the process started on planning for radiation therapy services to East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook.
Plans are underway to design a new oncology and renal departments that will be built in a second tower adjacent to the new ICU building, according to David Wilks, the mayor of Sparwood who chairs the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District Board.
Initial plans had envisioned the new space on the second floor of the new ICU building, however, that has now changed, according to Wilks.
As planning for that new space gets underway, Wilks and the rest of the hospital district board continue to press Interior Health and the provincial government for the inclusion of radiation therapy services in that visioning process, so that one day it could potentially become a reality at EKRH.
“It’s just a matter of keeping it in the process,” said Wilks, in an interview. “I think what I need to be clear on, too, is that I know getting radiation therapy here is a long-term goal, but without having a facility to where you can place the radiation, this will be a no-go at any given time.
“So my push is, when we build the new oncology and renal ward, which we’re going to build — that is coming — why don’t we factor in a portion of that building, that could, in the future, house radiation?”
According to the latest update from Interior Health at February’s hospital board meeting, the business plan documents for the oncology and renal planning process is expected to be complete by September.
Currently, Kelowna is the closest B.C. city to the East Kootenay region that can provide radiation therapy services, while treatment at health care facilities in Alberta isn’t an option anymore.
Approximately 230 East Kootenay-based cancer patients travel to Kelowna for radiation therapy treatment services a year, according to BC Cancer.
“To better support care closer to home, we utilize virtual health visits when appropriate, hold monthly radiation oncologist consultations and follow-up clinics in Cranbrook and make special arrangements to coordinate any other in-person appointments that a patient may need on the same day as a radiation therapy session in an effort to reduce the number of trips a patient may need to make to receive their cancer care,” said Dr. Ross Halperin, executive medical director, BC Cancer – Kelowna, in a statement.
The BC Cancer - Kelowna clinic also provides a number of specialty cancer care services, such as interstitial brachytherapy for gynecological cancers and temporary high dose rate brachytherapy for breast and prostate cancer.
Additionally, the clinic has B.C.’s only Research Chair in Brachytherapy and boasts the accomplishment of being the first Canadian site to utilize artificial intelligence with adaptive radiation therapy to better target the treatment and dramatically spare healthy tissue from the side effects of radiation.
As part of the province’s 10-year cancer care plan, new funding is being added to support people living in rural and remote communities who need to travel for cancer care, however, what that practically looks like remains unclear.
Based on conversations with provincial officials, there are competing priorities for radiation therapy in other locations across B.C., according to Wilks.
However, if the necessary infrastructure is in place at EKRH, it can set the table for a future with radiation therapy services in the southeastern interior, he added.
“Anything that we can do as a hospital board or as a region to make it easier for them to make that decision in the future, that’s not a bad thing.,” said Wilks.
“…If we can build this room that can facilitate radiation, whether that be in five, ten years from now, at least the bunker or the building or the room is there and it’s ready to go.”
The issue gets to the heart of one of the hospital board’s constant frustrations — the lack of a master plan for EKRH that would help identify and guide future capital development for the facility.
The capital project funding model is broken down by a 60 per cent contribution from the province, and 40 per cent by local taxpayers covered in the hospital board jurisdiction.
Every year, Interior Health brings forward a list of proposed capital projects in the East Kootenay for the board to fund its share. However, sometimes Interior Health’s identified capital projects don’t align with the priorities of local hospital board directors.
That EKRH master plan would be handy right now to identify and guide some of the hospital’s major capital projects, according to Wilks.
Wilks said he has a meeting with Interior Health CEO Susan Brown later this month, where he will continue to make the case for at least planning for a future with radiation services at EKRH.
“I will be pushing it hard, and they know that,” Wilks said, adding that he also hopes to press for a final decision on plans to double capacity at the F.W. Green Home, a long-term care facility in Cranbrook, from 60 to 130 beds — a project that itself could come with a $100 million price tag.
The Ministry of Health was non-committal when asked directly about the inclusion of radiation therapy in the planing process for the new onocology and renal space at EKRH.
“Work continues to be underway to improve cancer care in B.C. and more information on the expansion of services in regional centres, will be available as work progresses,” according to a recent ministry statement. “We look forward to sharing these details as they are finalized.”