The Save St Paul’s Coalition is celebrating a victory this week after its ongoing efforts to keep the West End hospital’s programs intact garnered unanimous support from city council’s Planning and Environment committee.
Councillor Geoff Meggs introduced a motion to back the hospital’s renewal and retain its key specialized programs at the committee’s Mar 5 meeting.
“This is to put on record our commitment to the renewal of St Paul’s as a critical healthcare facility for the province, but also a major economic generator for our city,” Meggs said.
The motion urges the provincial government to consider the economic, ecological, medical and social benefits of keeping the West End hospital’s key programs and services intact.
The motion was unanimously supported by all councillors present at the committee meeting: Meggs, David Cadman, Andrea Reimer, Heather Deal, Kerry Jang and Ellen Woodsworth. Mayor Gregor Robertson voted in favour as well.
BC health minster George Abbott says he’s not opposed to the motion. Given its age and structure, St Paul’s is in need of renewal and revitalization, he acknowledges.
But whether that revitalization will occur on the existing Burrard St site or on the proposed False Creek Flats site is still undetermined, Abbott says.
Abbott calls the part of the motion that refers to the provincial government’s potential dismantling and transferring of the hospital’s key programs to other hospitals “premature and misleading.”
“The province has made no decisions in regard to taking services away from St Paul’s,” he maintains.
However, he confirms that talks with BC’s health authorities are taking place.
“A planning process is currently underway involving the health authorities and the ministry regarding the utilization of acute care facilities well into the 21st century,” Abbott reveals.
The government is looking at how programs at Vancouver General Hospital, Surrey Memorial, Royal Columbian and St Paul’s are best utilized, Abbott says.
Asked if his ministry has seen any business case from St Paul’s operator Providence health care regarding the hospital’s relocation and renewal, Abbott says he has not.
“The spirit of the motion is something we all would support,” says Providence spokesperson Shaf Hussain, who says the hospital still needs major investment and renewal.
Meggs’ motion follows a Jan 30 letter sent by senior hospital staff to Premier Gordon Campbell.
“We know there is extensive planning underway within the Ministry of Health to develop strategic plans to address BC’s growing long-term health care needs. We support the need for such planning,” the letter reads. “However, any process that begins with contemplating a downgrading of St Paul’s is inherently flawed and naive. We believe the beginning point should be how to add to St Paul’s current levels of expertise and human potential, not subtract from it.”
Prior to the committee’s vote, Brent Granby, chair of the Save St Paul’s Coalition, urged councillors to put pressure on the province to make a decision regarding the hospital’s future. St Paul’s has been in a state of limbo long enough, Granby told the committee.
“St Paul’s Hospital renewal plans have been languishing for more than seven years,” he claimed. “The lack of significant investment in capital spending in renewing and extending the hospital has left many speculating on what the long-term plans for the hospital are.
“The fear now is not that it will move, but that it will be hollowed out from within,” he said. “The province should make good on its commitment to assist on the capital cost of this project.”
“The idea of moving discrete programs from St Paul’s Hospital to another hospital is unrealistic,” Dr Peter Dodek, chair of the Critical Care Working Group at the hospital’s Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences, told the committee.
“Each of the key programs at St Paul’s Hospital is intricately related to many other programs and services and the success of these programs depends on this synergy,” Dodek said. “I believe that we can meet these needs through incremental renewal on our existing site, not the creation of an entirely new building on another site.”
“The idea that you can take pieces out and move them willy nilly here or there and still protect the health services is wrong,” Meggs agreed.
“By passing this motion in council we make it very clear to all the stakeholders and the province that we’re prepared to look at this proactively, renewing St Paul’s and generating for the province the medical benefits that will come,” Meggs said.
“Using what has already been built and expanding on the current site is more cost effective, more ecologically sustainable and more in line with the historic context of the location,” Granby said.
“The economic impact of St Paul’s is huge in the West End,” added Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva. “If St Paul’s were to move, you would see For Rent signs and For Lease signs up and down Davie and Burrard and Denman Sts. It would be a disaster economically. If we could have a renewal of St Paul’s hospital, I think we could have a renewal of the West End.”
Jennifer Breakspear, executive director of The Centre on Bute St, pointed out that the West End’s queer community, including its seniors, uses St Paul’s services on a regular basis. “The people that need the services are in the West End. Let’s keep the services in the West End,” she urged.
The hospital is also vital for the many HIV-positive people who live nearby and rely on its services, Breakspear added. “So many of the folks living with HIV/AIDS are living in the West End. It would be a travesty to deny those people that most need the services access to them for various financial, economic or profiteering motives.”
“It’s an issue that’s emotional. It’s technical. It’s community-based. It covers all kinds of different issues,” acknowledged councillor Heather Deal.
“It’s an urban hospital in a very urban setting. It’s within the fabric of the neighbourhood and the grid and transit. If every service that is there now were moved down to the proposed site it would become a suburban hospital,” Deal said. “It would become the kind of hospital that would be quite cleaved off from the community it serves.”