Sagging coal prices and mine closures could delay planned upgrades to the Tumbler Ridge medical clinic, according to a Northern Health director.
Redeveloping the Tumbler Ridge Community Health Centre, a small rural clinic, had been a priority of the health authority. But Mike Hoefer, who is in charge of Northern Health capital spending in the Peace, said planning for upgrades to the facility began in 2013, before a major slump in the price of metallurgical coal.
Earlier this year, the last mine in Tumbler Ridge ceased operation. Hundreds lost their jobs in a string of closures in 2014.
“The activity in the [medical] centre has decreased rapidly as a result of the coal mining downturn,” said Hoefer, who presented on the Northern Health budget at Thursday’s regional district meeting. “At one point there was talk of rapid growth in the community. It never came to fruition.”
In 2011, Tumbler Ridge had a population of around 2,700, though the community has likely shrunk along with the mine closures. No government agency has measured the population or unemployment rate since the downturn. Some expect the latter could be greater than 50 per cent.
Hoefer said design and construction tenders were slated for 2019 at the earliest, but that those could be pushed back.
He added that an expanded in-patient care wing at the Dawson Creek and District Hospital is in line for funding before any upgrades in Tumbler Ridge.
“We have a number of projects in planning, and we temper whether they move forward or back depending on what’s going on,” Hoefer said.
The Tumbler Ridge clinic is a diagnostic and treatment centre, meaning any specialized procedures are done at larger hospitals. Emergency room staff are mostly on call.
Mayor Don McPherson said planning work for the clinic upgrades have already been completed. He hoped the delay wouldn’t push the project off Northern Health’s priority list.
“I hope it’s just [pushed] up because we’re going to need those improvements, and it would be a shame if we had to do new planning,” he told the board.