Petition for Comfor money discussion

Comfor Management donation for almost a million dollars up for discussion.

A petition calling on the Village of Burns Lake to earmark nearly a million dollars for equipping an operating room in the new Lakes District Hospital & Health Centre will soon be on its way to municipal council.

Paul Jean, one of the campaign’s organizers, said late last week the petition would likely be pulled on Monday (April 1) or Tuesday (April 2). After tabulating the results, organizers will prepare it for submission to the municipality.

“We’ll have to get it collated and then arrange to present it to the mayor,” Jean explained.

While community reaction to the petition has generally been positive, local elected officials are being a bit more cautious in their responses.

Bill Miller, director for Electoral Area B (Burns Lake Rural) of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, said he believes it’s always good to engage the public in discussion of important issues. He added that in his opinion, the $960,000 donation made to the Village of Burns Lake by Comfor Management Services Ltd. (a community-owned corporation) “should benefit the whole community and not just (the) municipal tax base. The hospital is certainly representative of the greater community.”

Jean and Joan McFee, organizers of the petition, believe equipping the hospital’s operating room will help with physician recruitment. Miller isn’t so sure.

“It narrows the parameters a bit for Northern Health in what doctors they can bring on board (here),” Miller explained. “According to what they tell us, they must have three physicians that have surgical skills, as well as anesthesiologists. I’m not sure whether that would be a ‘plus’ or a ‘minus’ in their recruiting strategy. I would suspect ‘minus’, but I am not the one to ask.”

Miller added that government officials also have to take into consideration the costs associated with adding new health care services. “I believe we have to be cautious when it comes to what the operating budgets of our facilities are, as the health care cost in the province are rising drastically and the tax burden to our small local tax base (in the Stuart-Nechako Regional Hospital District) could become extreme.

“I think we need to have a full discussion with all the stakeholders/residents,” he concluded. “Strategic planning for the region is we can best get as much services and efficient use of monies.”

Village of Burns Lake council has not yet determined how it will use the $960,000 donation it received from Comfor Management Service Ltd. (CMSL), a community owned corporation.

Mayor Luke Strimbold said last week that while council appreciates local residents’ efforts to engage in municipal government business, more information is needed before the municipality can make a decision on how the CMSL funds should be spent.

“I think there are some important questions that need to be answered,” he stated. “What is our long-term health service plan? What is the operating cost of having a functioning operating room? What are the requirements of having an operating room? … I am prepared to work with the proponents of the petition and Northern Health to get a better understanding of the implications and opportunities.”

Several months ago, the board of directors for Comfor Management Services Ltd. (CMSL) donated $960,000 to the Village of Burns Lake, and in excess of $100,000 to both the Burns Lake Band and Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

While the municipality is the sole shareholder of CMSL, the company’s founders – including Jean – have been critical of the decision, noting that the community-owned corporation and its subsidiary, Burns Lake Community Forest Ltd., were designed to benefit all residents of the Lakes District, and not just those living within municipal boundaries.