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Providence releases plans for new hospital

But spokesperson maintains no decision has been made

Providence Health Care has developed detailed plans for the new hospital it may build next to the Pacific Central train station near Main St, reporter Peter Mitham revealed in an article published in Business in Vancouver, May 15.

Titled “The Legacy Project Briefing Note: A Draft For Discussion,” the 36-page report on the proposed hospital’s eco-friendly plans was released last month by Providence Health Care, which owns St Paul’s Hospital.

According to Mitham, the report describes Providence’s vision for a new $950-million dollar, 1.4-million square foot hospital on the 18.4-acre site in east False Creek, which Providence purchased in 2004.

The new hospital will strive to meet targets for gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard, Mitham’s article notes. The hospital’s proposed green features include “not only transit connections, maximum use of natural light and low energy consumption but also natural ventilation systems that promise to enhance the hospital’s abilities to control infections.”

Providence spokesperson Shaf Hussain denies the report is evidence of another step in the health care provider’s contentious proposal to move St Paul’s Hospital out of the West End.

“It’s important to know no decision has been made,” he says. “We haven’t forwarded the business case to the government. Before that’s done we have to engage the public. When we complete the findings it will become part of the business case.”

Providence has been working on two business cases for the past five years: one to renovate St Paul’s in its current Burrard St location, the other to build a new hospital on the east False Creek flats, while possibly retaining some specialized services downtown.

Hussain says Providence released the False Creek construction plans in response to requests for meetings from “stakeholders.”

“We’re in information sharing mode now,” Hussain says. “We need to engage and meet with people and interested groups in public consultation meetings.

“We are attending meetings like the one last Tuesday night with the Save St Paul’s group to discuss our vision of what we think is the best solution when it comes to meeting the needs of the patients who use St Paul’s,” Hussain continues.

Save St Paul’s Coalition chair Aaron Jasper has a couple of problems with that statement. First of all, he says, Providence did not meet with the Save St Paul’s Coalition on May 29—it met with the breakaway neutral group Friends of St Paul’s.

Jasper’s group, which more vocally opposes the prospect of St Paul’s moving, was not invited, he says. But he attended anyway and was not impressed with what he saw.

“What was going on was a sales pitch, not a true public consultation,” Jasper asserts. “Providence still isn’t genuinely consulting the people who will be most deeply impacted by the downtown hospital’s closure,” he charges.

News of the recent meeting between Providence Health Care and some members of the public surprises Alan Herbert.

Herbert is a former city councillor and planner who left the Save St Paul’s Coalition but continues to be concerned about the West End hospital’s potential closure. He says he didn’t even know a public meeting was going to be held.

“If they were consulting they were keeping it pretty damn quiet,” he says.

“I would like to have been at that meeting,” he adds with frustration.

Jasper says he saw an e-mail notification of the meeting and went “to see if it would be a fair and balanced presentation of information. But there was no one on their panel who would take a contrary view. The whole thing was very scripted.”

Providence presented its proposal as fact, he contends. “Providence didn’t present its proposal as ‘we did our due diligence and here are the options.’ They were asking us to trust them and to believe that the only viable option is the one they’re pushing,” Jasper states.

“They should have invited paramedics, nurses, hospital workers and other vocal groups who oppose their plans,” he continues, “but only Providence Health Care was given the opportunity to present its case. It was not transparent and not balanced. This whole process is a glossy sales brochure, not a balanced, open discussion.”

Herbert thinks the way Providence has handled the consultation process to this point leaves a lot to be desired too. “Their public consultation process has to be clear and transparent,” he says. “They have to be upfront and clear with the public as to what they intend to do with the site on Burrard St.”

Herbert would like to see Providence rent a bunch of halls to meet with all the people who will be most affected by the proposed closure and really listen to what they have to say.

“They’ve got to get the word out having an honest consultation process,” says Herbert. “If they’re holding them in secret the whole process is a sham—a sham and a shame.”

Hussain invites everyone who has questions but no access to meetings to call him. “We’ll meet with Joe Public—even one on one,” he says.

Providence’s ultimate goal in the public consultation process, says Hussain, is to figure out “how to meet the demand and all our patient needs into the year 2020 and beyond.”

St Paul’s current location “has deteriorated to the point of having outlived its usefulness,” he admits. “The challenges there are quite overwhelming. What we are hearing from our doctors is that ‘something needs to be done.'”

Hussain says he expects it will be months before Providence feels it’s received sufficient input to incorporate into the business cases it’s preparing for submission to BC’s provincial health and finance ministries. “There is no timeline for the end of the public consultation process,” he says.

“In our opinion,” Jasper concludes, speaking for the Save St Paul’s Coalition, “it [the proposal to relocate St Paul’s] has more to do with real estate than the current and future options for health care services at St Paul’s and this real estate deal is a real disservice to the community.”