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Closure talks reach top Liberal

While HIV/AIDS groups left out of the St Paul's loop

Stephen McManus is puzzled why AIDS groups aren?t protesting the proposal to move St Paul's. Credit: Robin Perelle photo

A leaked email from a top hospital manager has provoked renewed fears that the BC government is close to approving a hush-hush deal that will move St Paul’s Hospital out of the West End.

The Apr 12 email-warning hospital staff not to publicly discuss issues sensitive to the Liberal party-led to confirmation that Providence Health Care is pressuring government to close the hospital at its current site.

Finance Minister Colin Hansen agreed that a hospital move is on the table after the leaked email noted his attendance at a crucial St Paul’s planning meeting.

“I acknowledge there are individuals at Providence Health Care who would give their eye teeth for a brand new hospital, rather than renovating the existing St Paul’s site,” Hansen told CBC radio Apr 14.

But, he said, the BC government has made no decision on the move yet; and he promised community consultation this fall-after the provincial election.

Providence spokesperson Shaf Hussain claims there are still two future scenarios on the table and insists Providence isn’t pushing either one. Hussain told Xtra West Apr 21 that the investigation is ongoing into whether to relocate or rebuild the hospital.

But that contradicts statements made by both Hansen and a senior city of Vancouver planner who told Xtra West that the rebuilding option was shelved at least two years ago in favour of relocation.

Queer politicians, health groups and community activists are exasperated by the lack of consultation pertaining to plans for the 500-bed hospital, which is also home to the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

Vancouver-Burrard NDP candidate Tim Stevenson called on the Liberal party to “come clean” on the St Paul’s plan. And representatives of several HIV/AIDS groups met to consider how to obtain accurate information.

Hospital authorities have repeatedly rebuffed appeals by HIV/AIDS support groups for information since a vague briefing last October.

Representatives of the groups say they are taken aback by reports that plans to move the hospital are so far advanced. “I was surprised based on the information we received earlier,” says Sue Moen, co-chair of an umbrella group representing 16 HIV/AIDS groups.

Local HIV/AIDS groups-including the 4,000-member BC Persons with AIDS Society (BCPWA)-are taking a neutral position on the proposed move until more information is available. Moen says it’s premature to consider a response to closure plans because so much is still unknown.

That disappoints Stephen McManus, a BCPWA member and founder of GayWest, the health program behind the current queer anti-smoking campaign.

McManus wonders if the AIDS leadership has been intimidated into silence. “I don’t know why they are neutral. I can understand being neutral if under threat, or if promises were made.

“St Paul’s should stay in the West End,” McManus continues. “Many PWAs and seniors have moved here to be close to hospital services.

“The relocation planning has been secretive because the hospital knows it will be unpopular and the government knows it will be unpopular,” he charges. “So they prefer to make decisions behind closed doors.”

McManus and Kevin O’Neil, a West End gay man and St Paul’s emergency room nursing assistant, are launching a concerned citizens group to stop the St Paul’s move. They’re planning to hold a community forum soon, and possibly a rally.

BCPWA chair Paul Lewand was unavailable at press time but told Xtra West earlier this year that “the lives of a huge number of people would be disrupted” if St Paul’s closes.

“But if a brand new facility is built keeping intact crucial HIV services maybe it would be worth all the turmoil,” he added, noting that the lack of information has contributed to “lots of confusion.”

Stevenson says voters deserve answers on “this critical issue” before the May 17 vote. “People in this community rely on St Paul’s,” he told a recent press conference in front of the hospital’s entrance. “Seniors, people with HIV/AIDS and tourists need to know what will happen to our only downtown hospital.”

Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt is also on record opposing the hospital’s move but didn’t return repeated requests for an interview on the issue.

The email leaked earlier this month warned St Paul’s staff not to make public statements offensive to the Liberal government. Providence Health Care sent the e-mail to all senior hospital managers after an emergency room physician complained on CBC radio of the worst backlog of patients she had seen in her 12 years at St Paul’s.

“We are attempting to avoid negative media coverage in the pre-election period and this issue of LTC [long-term care] is particularly sensitive to the Ministry of Health,” wrote Jeremy Etherington, vice-president of medical affairs, noting that the future of St Paul’s was on the table at a meeting with Finance Minister Hansen later that day.

“It’s absolutely essential that we get the green light on the Legacy Project and this is clearly not the way to achieve it,” Etherington continued.

The Legacy Project is a Providence plan dating back to 2002. Initially, the plan called for St Paul’s to be rebuilt at its current site.

But-confirms a senior city planner-the rebuilding option was shelved at least two years ago because of time and space considerations.

Last year, Providence purchased a 17.2-acre property in east False Creek and plans are underway to integrate the new Legacy Project hospital into a comprehensive city development plan for that area.

“Their intention seems pretty clear,” city planner Rob Jenkins told Xtra West Apr 19. “They want to move at least a substantial portion if not all of the St Paul’s services.”

Jenkins says the city has requested that residents serviced by the existing hospital be consulted as to the possibility and feasibility of retaining some services at the St Paul’s site.