A high-end, privately funded healthcare facility is slated for development on Westbank First Nation territory in Kelowna B.C., band Chief Robert Louie has announced.
“Yes. It is our intention [to build a health centre]. We’ve been working on this for almost two years now,” Louie said. “We’ve put a lot of thinking into this. It’s the first of its kind in Canada.” Louie said the facility, still in its planning and preparation stages, promises to offer first-rate medical care.
“It will be equivalent to a private hospital,” he explained. The centre will provide all the services of a typical healthcare institution without the emergency department, obstetrics unit and psychiatric ward.
The private clinic will provide major organ surgeries, joint replacement procedures and cosmetic surgeries.
“It’s pretty wide open as far as a hospital goes,” Louie assured.
The facility, which has unofficially been named the Lake Okanagan Medical Wellness Centre, will span about 200,000 square feet and boast 100 beds in its first phase of completion.
Further, stakeholders say the complex will have all the amenities required to promote it as a five-star facility.
“Patients will be able to drink a nice bottle of wine the night before and there will be chefs preparing food,” said Louie.
The chief says the plan is a win-win.
“We see it as a demand and a need to deal first-hand with First Nations people.”
It will also keep healthcare dollars in Canada and will help “deal with the huge healthcare gaps that exist in the country,” he explained.
“We want to narrow that gap.”
Louie said the new facility will also provide a training ground for new First Nations physicians.
“We believe this [plan] provides a high potential for training [and] we don’t have enough First Nations physicians.” Close to 400 new health jobs are expected to be available after the first phase of development is complete.
“That’s huge,” Louie said of the high number of employment opportunities promised through the plan.
But while the WestBank First Nation plans to employ Aboriginal professionals in the healthcare field, Louie said that the health care offered won’t come cheap.
“You won’t have to be a multi-millionaire to attend,” he assured. But “people will come and they will have to pay for the quality of care they are going to get.”
“This is going to be first class, so we want some of our top surgeons in the world to be a part of this,” he added.
“We know that a majority of First Nations people don’t have the dollars,” he continued.
Not only will the facility have the best in modern healthcare equipment at its fingertips, it will be so high-tech that patients who can’t afford a stay at the facility will be provided care through long-distance care plans and various technological advancements in dealing with medical resources, Louie explained.
Helping to acquire investment dollars in the project is businessman Mark McLoughlin, one half of the two partners that make up Ad Vitam, a local private corporation that has partnered with WestBank First Nation to help fund the endeavour.
“We’re not looking at any money from the government or any other agency,” Louie explained.
“We have the land component and we are looking to our partner to come up with the financing.” In providing the land, WestBank is slated to receive a full 50 per cent of all revenue accrued from the venture.
“Basically my role is in coordinating and bringing the finances together,” said McLoughlin.
He has lived on the fringe of the WestBank First Nation reserve for the last four years, and has had about 10 different discussions with organizations regarding forming equity partnerships to help fund the project. He said he will continue to lobby for joint equity opportunities, even with American shareholders.
McLoughlin said he is confident the joint venture will be successful and commends the First Nation community for its business savvy.
“First and foremost, Westbank First Nations is one of the most progressive and successful bands in Canada,” said McLoughlin.
“It’s really quite incredible,” he said, pointing to the major economic developments the band has been involved in over the years.
“This is something the members want,” McLoughlin said.
“We have very strong community support to proceed with this,” confirmed Louie.
“We had a 92 per cent vote [in favor of the facility] from our membership,” he claimed.
Louie said the facility will not only generate financial rewards for the band, but it will provide them with priority healthcare close to home.
Moreover, the project is an active and broad step toward First Nations self-governance regarding heath care in the province.
“We know that the federal and provincial governments have an agreement with the First Nation Health Authority and the intent there is to work together to close the health gap and turn authority over to the [First Nations Health Council],” said Louie.
“We see this as an opportunity to be a facility to close that gap,” he explained.
The first phase of the project is expected to cost $120 million to complete and development is tentatively set to begin in fall 2012.