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Renowned HIV/AIDS doctor opposes St Paul’s hospital relocation

St Paul's supporters took their fight to the hospital's doorstep

Moving St Paul's Hospital from the West End to a new location east of Main St could threaten the interests of persons with HIV/AIDS, seniors and health care practitioners, says Alan Herbert. Credit: Wendy D Photo

A determined coalition of St Paul’s supporters took their fight to the hospital’s doorstep Jul 13 in a widely broadcast public lambasting of hospital authorities.

“I’m outraged that the future of this integral institution is being decided behind closed doors,” declared Alan Herbert, co-chair of the Save St Paul’s Coalition, at a media conference at St Paul’s.

The coalition requested a meeting by Jun 20 with the hospital board and called a public meeting for 2 pm Jul 23 at the West End Community Centre.

Herbert, a former Vancouver city councillor and longtime queer activist, said moving St Paul’s out of the downtown area would be a setback for some 120,000 residents, employees and visitors who rely on the facility. He said a hospital move would threaten the interests of persons with HIV/AIDS, seniors and health care practitioners.

“Without being too dramatic, I can tell you that if this hospital is moved and placed in the Trillium site people could die,” said Herbert.

“There will be an open, public process on the future of this hospital,” he insisted. “You can bet on that.”

A senior manager at Providence Health Care, the Catholic group that owns and operates St Paul’s, told Xtra West Jul 13 that community consultation isn’t planned until after a business case for a new or rebuilt hospital is forwarded to Vancouver Coastal Health.

Neil MacConnell, chief architect for Providence explained that the organization’s planning team will forward two business case scenarios to the hospital board and Vancouver Coastal Health in August for further direction. One scenario calls for a new hospital east of Main St and the other calls for the hospital to be rebuilt at its current site.

Although it is widely held that Providence prefers the relocation option, MacConnell said he doesn’t know if Providence will endorse either of the options before forwarding the final report to the Ministry of Health.

MacConnell said there will be a consultative process orchestrated by the health ministry with Providence taking an active role. But he hopes the process will be fast-tracked with a Treasury Board decision coming as early as this fall. “We’re hoping for a quick set of decisions.”

When asked if he had a message for the queer community around the hospital’s future, MacConnell said HIV/AIDS clinics could be established at the site of the existing hospital or elsewhere in the West End.

A prominent West End doctor renowned for his work with HIV/AIDS opposes the hospital relocation option.

“I believe there is space to rebuild at the current site,” Dr Robert Voigt told Xtra West Jul 15. He said moving the hospital would be a setback for the HIV/AIDS community.

Voigt also wonders why the hospital’s Catholic owners would build so close to another existing facility. “I think it would be too close to VGH.” Voigt said he would be unable to visit his patients at the proposed new site because of its distance from the clinic where he works.

The Save St Paul’s Coalition is chaired by West End activist Aaron Jasper and includes at least five downtown business and residents’ associations. Jasper said the move to save the hospital transcends partisan and regional politics.

“We’re not saying there isn’t a need in another part of the city,” said Jasper. “What we’re saying is they shouldn’t be pitting one neighbourhood against another.”

Randy Atkinson of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association said St Paul’s is integral to the economy of the downtown business district. And, he said, hospital employee shift changes keep the streets busy and safe through the night.

Richard Jonah from Mole Hill, the neighbourhood adjacent to the hospital, said he and many other HIV-positive people moved to the West End to be close to the hospital. “Why move it and force us to make travel plans to get medical services?”

Rev Markus Duenzkofer, the rector at St Paul’s Anglican Church, says many of his parishioners depend on the nearby hospital.

“I have a number of seniors and a number of people who are HIV-positive who rely on the hospital. I know people who have moved to the West End and Yaletown because of St Paul’s.”

But MacConnell points out that only 14 percent of St Paul’s patients come from the West End. He says planning must also include larger, regional interests.

Vancouver-Burrard MLA Lorne Mayencourt supports the coalition’s efforts. “I believe St Paul’s should be retained on Burrard St,” Mayencourt told Xtra West Jul 14. “We can work through some of the challenges with that site using some creativity.”

Councillor Tim Stevenson promised to propose a motion at city council in September forcing Providence to hold public discussions. “If this is such a terrific plan, let the public see it,” challenged Stevenson.

West End resident George Stephenson believes the St Paul’s issue should be front and centre in the upcoming mayoralty race. “What is more important than good health care in a city?”

Three possible Vancouver mayoralty candidates in the upcoming civic election have publicly commented on the future of St Paul’s.

COPE councillor David Cadman told Xtra West that the hospital needs to be replaced due to seismic and maintenance considerations. “My sense is an alternative site would have to be found.”

COPE councillor Jim Green wasn’t available at press time but told the Vancouver Courier last August that a new False Creek hospital could be a great thing for the city.

NPA councillor Sam Sullivan told Xtra West that he hopes St Paul’s will remain at its current location. He said people in high-density areas have a right to close hospital services.