The benefits of an updated South Okanagan General Hospital to patients were front and centre Wednesday afternoon, but unspoken at an information gathering in Oliver was how the improvements might also be more inviting to physicians.

The hospital, which occasionally has to shut its Emergency Room doors because of a lack of physician coverage, is undergoing a $1.25-million facelift — a $970,000 upgrade bolstered by a $280,000 promise from the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation.

About 70 South Okanagan residents turned out for an hour-long presentation that showed off expected changes.

“The quick summary is that we started Monday,” said Sarah Evans, the hospital’s Acute Care Manager. “We’re doing a phased approach. The main registration area is now closed and registration has been relocated to an alcove opposite the Lab, where they will for the duration of the project, which we believe will be 26 weeks.”

In early July, said Ms. Evans, the hospital will close the current Emergency Room waiting room.

“That’s when the real work starts,” she said. “There will be some challenges with congestion and that sort of thing, but it will be some necessary pain that we have to get through to get an awesome new waiting room and triage and registration area.”

And an improved space for physicians.

“We’ve done our best to listen to the things that physicians wanted to see out of the renovations, like this private touchdown space for consultations,” Ms. Evans said. “We’ve got a beautiful space for them.

That includes a sleeping area.

In late March, the Interior Health Authority reported physicians would be “called into the emergency department during the night (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) to respond to emergencies, rather than remaining on location for an entire shift.”

On-call doctors would be summoned to the hospital by nursing staff only for patients requiring true emergency care or for patients aged 16 and under.

It wasn’t clear Wednesday if the ER improvements might change that practice, but Carl Meadows, a Health Services Administrator with the health region, said the IHA is working to remedy physician concerns at the SOGH.

“We’ve come at it from the housing side to make sure we’re supporting them for places to stay,” he said. “We’ve got the reno and we’ve made sure their voices were important in the design. We’ve got a great lead right now in the ER department, a physician lead who has made a lot of improvements to the schedule.

“It’s positive all-around.”

While there will be that “necessary pain” while the renovations are completed, presenters appeared to suggest the Penticton Regional Hospital as an available alternative. About 15 minutes of the presentation detailed the new Kampe Tower in Penticton, its resources and how to get around.

“We rely on Penticton Regional and what a blessing it is to have them so close,” said Ms. Evans. “I’ve worked in hospitals where it’s a much longer distance. It’s a beautiful partnership.”

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