BC Health Minister Kevin Falcon confirmed to the Providence Health Care annual general meeting on June 9 that St Paul’s Hospital will remain in the West End, but he is not ruling out a new hospital on the False Creek flats.
“We still have the Station St site, which is available for other healthcare opportunities too,” Falcon said. “We will work with the Esperanza Society to look at how that site will continue to meet the needs of British Columbians too.”
The Esperanza Society bought the False Creek land in March 2004 — a year after Providence first floated the idea of relocating St Paul’s to the area. One month later, the non-profit society gave Providence the right of first refusal to buy the land.
An Xtra investigation into Esperanza revealed connections between its directors and the chairs of Vancouver Coastal Health, Providence, venture capital outfits, development and construction firms, hospital and for-profit health providers.
It also revealed that directors of the Esperanza Society, along with their relatives, associated companies and operators, have contributed at least $70,650 to BC Liberal Party coffers since they purchased the land in 2004.
Falcon initially announced St Paul’s would not be moving within 48 hours of publication of that investigation.
The minister denies the report had anything to do with the announcement’s timing.
Speaking to Xtra outside the meeting, Falcon dismissed as “silly” suggestions by the Save St Paul’s Coalition that the Esperanza inter-relationships might be a conflict of interest.
Falcon says Catholic organizations have always been involved in providing and funding healthcare in the province.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that you’ve had prominent Catholics step forward as part of the Esperanza Society and put up dollars to preserve options for delivering care in Vancouver,” Falcon says.
“I can’t believe that people would try and construe that as conspiracy. It’s kind of sad,” the minister adds.
Brent Granby of the Save St Paul’s Coalition says the questions are legitimate.
He still wants to know why the BC government is paying $800,000 a year in Vancouver property taxes on Esperanza’s False Creek land.
“What’s the relationship between a private society, the ownership of the land and St Paul’s?” Granby asks.
“It’s about accountability and transparency,” he says.
Falcon says he was told by St Paul’s Hospital staff and others that the uncertainty around the hospital’s future needed to be addressed.
The hospital’s historical role and the community’s emotional attachment to it helped inform the decision to retain St Paul’s in the West End, he told the Providence annual general meeting.
He says he was approached several months ago by then-Providence chairperson Kip Woodward “who said, ‘Look, we’ve got a vision that would involve reinvesting in the existing facility. We think that there’s some extra land we can use there as part of that investment.’
“I took a look at it, we had a good discussion about it. I said, ‘I agree with you, let’s get to work on it,'” Falcon says.
He says that decision could “result in some significant investment and deal with some of the uncertainty around this issue.”
Granby was at the Providence meeting and called Falcon’s comments disappointing.
Though the minister’s confirmation that St Paul’s will stay in the West End was encouraging, he “never made any strong commitment to what the plan would be,” Granby says. “It was a lot of platitudes really.”
He says West Enders want to see more community involvement in the renewal plans.
“It would be disappointing to see them go forward with a full-blown plan,” Granby says. “There’s a lot of goodwill and they need to capitalize on that. We need to see some sincere effort on their part.”
St Paul’s future has been in question since 2003, when Providence first mentioned its intention to build a new hospital on the False Creek flats rather than renovate the existing site on Burrard St.
For years, Providence insisted that it was still drafting a business case for each option. The fact that both options might be considered simultaneously was downplayed.
Former Vancouver city council and mayoral candidate Steve Wansleeben has been following the St Paul’s revitalization question for years and documented it on his website.
Among the items Wansleeben collected is a Providence pamphlet entitled “Transforming Health Care at the New Providence Health Campus.” One subheading reads “The Two-Site Solution for St Paul’s Hospital.”
Wansleeben says he downloaded the pamphlet from Providence’s Legacy Project website, possibly in 2007.
Providence spokesperson Shaf Hussain confirms the document’s authenticity.
The document says the Burrard site could be reconfigured to house an urgent care centre, seniors’ care and services, social housing, HIV/AIDS specialty services and ongoing primary healthcare for West Enders.
The Station St campus on False Creek flats, called the Providence Health Campus, would contain research facilities, ambulatory and acute care, the document continues.
The pamphlet says the False Creek hospital would operate on a new patient-care model with a shift to outpatient and same day/short stay medical and surgical services.
“It will immediately improve healthcare using the latest technology and facility designs to decrease wait times, improve patient flows and access, improve overall health and safety — especially in the areas of infection control, earthquake preparedness and emergency care,” the document says.
The Providence pamphlet says it will be 26 percent cheaper to build the False Creek facility than to completely renovate the Burrard site.
Such a building project would take five years to complete on the False Creek land compared to 15 years for a rebuild at Burrard, it says.
The new hospital would be more efficient and its 18.5 acres would allow more room for further growth, the document adds.
“All these advantages are not present for a rebuild option at the current Burrard St site,” the document says.