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‘No plan by stealth,’ St Paul’s employee says

Community skeptical about Providence assurances

RELOCATION UNDERWAY?: 'These people are adamant that they're going to move. They're already matching the paint to the carpets,' claims St Paul's employee Kevin O'Neil. Credit: Robin Perelle

Although many people seem to think St Paul’s Hospital is on the verge of disappearing from the West End, Providence Health Care and the BC government insist that the fate of the Burrard St health care facility is nowhere near sealed.

“No decision has been taken on this project whatsoever,” Providence vice-president Neil MacConnell told the crowd at an Apr 1 community forum at the West End Community Centre.

The forum, at which MacConnell was one of four speakers, was hosted by the Save St Paul’s Coalition–the group working to keep the hospital downtown–and other concerned organizations.

For the past five years, Providence has been working on plans to renew St Paul’s. These plans include the possibility of building new facilities at the hospital’s current site or relocating St Paul’s to east False Creek, while retaining some specialized services at the hospital’s current location.

MacConnell said most people would agree that St Paul’s has deficient facilities and that rebuilding St Paul’s would cost 26 percent more than building a new hospital in east False Creek. Still, he promised Providence will maintain some presence at the downtown site no matter what happens to the rest of the hospital.

MacConnell also said Providence plans to hold public consultations soon throughout Vancouver and that only after the consultations are complete will his organization present its proposal to the BC government, which has the final say on whether the hospital stays or goes.

The BC Ministry of Health is taking the same position as Providence.

“We haven’t even received a business case,” health ministry spokesperson Sarah Plank told Xtra West in a telephone interview Apr 2. “The planning is still underway.”

But Aaron Jasper, chair of the Save St Paul’s Coalition, said people should not trust Providence. He encourages the public to question Providence’s arguments and to lobby Premier Gordon Campbell to save St Paul’s.

“The onus is on us to take action,” he told those attending the forum.

Members of the queer community are skeptical of Providence as well.

“These people are adamant that they’re going to move. They’re already matching the paint to the carpets,” Kevin O’Neil, a gay man and a founding member of the Save St Paul’s Coalition, told Xtra West after the forum.

“Providence says they have no plan, but that’s no plan by stealth,” added O’Neil, who is also a St Paul’s employee and Coastal Region vice-president for the Hospital Employees Union.

Providence offered no assurances for the future of the services delivered to groups such as people living with HIV/AIDS and seniors, O’Neil noted. “We’re left in the dark and their heads are in the clouds.”

Still, it’s about time Providence listened to the public, O’Neil continued. “We think it’s amazing that a representative from Providence actually showed up [at the community forum], after years of dogging them and them dodging us.”

Stephen McManus, a West End gay man and another founding member of the Save St Paul’s Coalition, agrees.

“In my opinion, this is the closest thing to getting community input that Providence has ever had,” he said of MacConnell’s appearance at the forum.

To gay Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson, the relocation of St Paul’s seems like a done deal.

“It certainly looks like both Providence Health Care and the province fully intend to move ahead with relocating the hospital and the only thing that I can see stopping that is community pressure,” Stevenson told Xtra West via telephone.

Stevenson says the province has an unfortunate record of not listening to the public and he doesn’t think that will change with St Paul’s. Still, he says he would love to be surprised and proven wrong.

He is also doubtful that City Hall would refuse a zoning request to build a new hospital.

“I doubt that Mayor Sam Sullivan and the NPA [Non-Partisan Association] would turn down a zoning request for a hospital in east False Creek,” he says. “I don’t see them as particularly concerned about the West End. I see the NPA as very closely aligned with the BC Liberal government and unlikely to buck a request from Premier Campbell to move that hospital.”

Stevenson says he’s concerned about people living with HIV/AIDS who currently access services at St Paul’s.

“It’s extraordinarily important to have in the West End the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. There are a lot of people living with HIV/AIDS in the West End,” he says. “I think it would be absolutely appalling if Providence moves it out. I’ll do everything I can to ensure that the Centre for Excellence remains in its current location.”

Paul Lewand, chair of the BC Persons with AIDS Society, says what matters most is that services for people with HIV/AIDS remain together.

“What we really want is for the whole thing to stay together,” he told Xtra West in a telephone interview. “If you’re going to move it, please move it all.”

He says Providence is in a difficult situation.

“I wouldn’t want to have to make the decision Providence has to make,” says Lewand. “It’s a no-win situation. They’ll never be able to make everyone happy.”