4 min

Christy Clark’s St Paul’s pledge nothing new: critics

'The money has been set aside,' Clark says

"Who does she think she's fooling?" asks NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth photo

The BC government says it’s finalizing a concept plan and business case for the redevelopment of downtown Vancouver’s aging St Paul’s Hospital, Premier Christy Clark announced June 13. But critics say the plans are hardly new, and it’s just another one of Clark’s re-announcements.

What’s new, Clark maintains, is that there’s half a billion dollars in the 2012 budget to redevelop the hospital and a business plan that’s before the provincial Treasury Board.

But in a committee presentation last month, Health Minister Mike de Jong said the business plan had only just been commissioned.

According to Hansard records of the Victoria legislature, de Jong said in Ministry of Health estimates in the committee of supply May 15, “We now have a concept plan and have had since last year, and say that there is a strong desire to move forward with this. The next stage would be the commissioning of the business case.

“When the decision is made and the announcement is made to move forward with the business case and the expenditure of that $5 million or $6 million, I believe that represents the beginning of the redevelopment project,” de Jong told the committee.

“This is one of the most complex healthcare projects this province has ever taken on,” Clark told the news conference at the hospital barely a month later. “We are going to be building a new hospital on an existing site.”

Neither the MLA for Vancouver West End nor members of the Save St Paul’s Coalition believe much of what was said in Clark’s announcement.

The premier’s announcement builds on former healthcare minister Kevin Falcon’s June 2010 promise that the century-old hospital would be redeveloped. Falcon’s commitment eased fears that St Paul’s operator, Providence Health Care, would, rather than redevelop on-site, proceed with a billion-dollar new facility on land on Station St, near Main and Terminal, on the outskirts of downtown.

But, critics say, many of the details Clark announced June 13 were already announced on Oct 21, 2010, at a community meeting where Providence CEO Dianne Doyle unveiled a concept plan for the hospital.

“We are making today for the first time a final and absolute commitment that this hospital is going to happen,” Clark says.

Doyle called Clark’s announcement significant and one that brings clarity to the hospital’s future.

But Doyle said in October 2010 that there was “certainty of direction.”

The 2012 budget says, “capital spending in the health sector will total $2.3 billion over the next three years.” But the only mention by name of St Paul’s Hospital in the budget is for upgrading of the electrical system.

“The money has been set aside and it is allocated,” Clark maintains. “It’s in our fiscal plan. That’s better than ‘the cheque is in the mail.'”

Clark maintains that a business case is now before the provincial Treasury Board where examinations will work out scope, details and due dates. “We’re still working out the details on how this is going to happen,” she says. “This is going to happen.”

The premier says a final concept plan and a more detailed business plan will be complete by 2014. The redevelopment time frame will be determined through the business plan process.

De Jong says a renewed St Paul’s could be completed by 2016. That agrees with what Doyle said in 2010. “We’re in the process of finalizing the concept plan and the finalization of the business case,” de Jong echoed Clark at the news conference.

The whole situation has left Vancouver West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert disheartened. He believes that there is no business case and no specified money in the budget and that the premier is just re-announcing old news.

He says de Jong’s words in committee compared to Clark’s announcement that the business case is already before the Treasury Board “indicate the premier is trying to trick us.”

“It’s in Hansard,” Chandra Herbert says. “If they’d seen the press and done some research, they’d know it is a fake announcement. That was such crap. There is no business case. Who does she think she’s fooling?”

The issue of possibly relocating St Paul’s first arose in 2003, to the dismay of many West End residents. Gay people, seniors and their neighbours formed a coalition to save the hospital. Members expressed concern about the Davie Village losing vital healthcare services, not to mention a major economic engine.

According to the 2010 concept plan, the building off the corner of Comox and Thurlow streets would be demolished to create a tower with 200,000 square feet of space and house ambulatory care, which is currently spread throughout the hospital.

That change would free up space in the current tower, which would then house 60 mental-health beds, the community meeting heard at the time. The old powerhouse would also be demolished, as would the McDonald Building and portions of others.

The new tower would integrate research and care for minor procedures, current disease management, primary care, outpatient clinics, point-of-care diagnostics, research and academics, the community meeting heard in 2010.

On June 13, Doyle said that up to 40 clinics spread throughout the hospital would be centralized to create a better patient-care environment.

She said the new building would be a centre for innovation, teaching and research. The focus for the redevelopment would be on ease of access, patient and staff satisfaction and cost-effective healthcare delivery, she added. “We will make the patient journey seamless,” she says.

Brent Granby of Save St Paul’s Coalition tells Xtra he supports the plan announced in 2010 but was expecting an announcement about more detailed planning on June 13.

“It seems to be a re-announcement,” he says, echoing Chandra Herbert. “The hospital was in dire need of renewal in 2003 and here we are in 2012.”