Northern Health officials are assuring community members in the Northwest that the new Mills hospital in Terrace won’t detract from other current hospital services offered in the region.
“The worry that everyone has that we’re somehow going to build this new hospital in Terrace and then we’re going to shut down services in outlying communities, it’s nothing but a myth,” said Ciro Panessa, Northern Health’s Chief Operating Officer in the Northwest.
The new $622.6 million Mills Memorial Hospital is set for completion in September 2024, but it will take approximately 18 months afterward for Northern Health to fully move in all that’s needed to begin transferring patients from the existing hospital and to admit new ones.
Every change that will be made will be an improvement, according to Panessa.
For example, the Kitimat maternity ward will still be operational, but the Mills hospital will offer a higher level of maternal-fetal care for newborns. This means complicated births will not have to be relocated to Prince George or Vancouver.
“We’ll be in a better position for people to return home sooner than they would have previously,” Panessa said. “There’s no change anticipated for the maternity services in Kitimat.”
The two major changes however that can be expected for Kitimat residents surround orthopedics and critical care.
Currently, there are only orthopedic surgeries in Prince Rupert and Kitimat. When the new hospital is built there will be a recruitment of orthopedic surgeons to increase capacity.
“Right now for orthopedics we’ve got higher than provincial average wait times,” said Panessa. “There’s a large number of people in the Northwest who have to travel to either Prince George or, or down south for orthopedic procedures.”
Elective orthopedic procedures will still happen in Kitimat along with general surgeries and potentially urology and ear, nose and throat. Some surgeries will be moved to Terrace to clear the backlog.
The new hospital will also have greater critical care capacity, meaning that there will be more complex procedures that previously couldn’t be completed in the northwest.
“In terms of the surgical volume, keeping the [operating rooms] open in Kitimat and having surgeries occur out of Kitimat, we don’t want to reduce that,” Panessa said.