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Rumoured merger of health authorities a threat to St Paul’s: Granby

Expect no answers about St Paul's for next six months, says health minister

The Save St Paul’s Coalition are calling on the province, Providence Health Care and the city to end speculation over the future of the 100-year-old hospital, saying that revitalization of the hospital on its West End site will bring long-term financial, social, and medical benefits to downtown Vancouver and the province.

“I think that we have very compelling arguments,” West End Residents Association (WERA) president Brent Granby told nearly two dozen members gathered at a coalition meeting held at St Paul’s Feb 4. “This clearly is a regional center. It is not something that you can just pick up and put down in another area and make it happen,” he says.

The Save St Pauls Coalition began in 2005 out of a collaboration of community organizations, local unions and West End citizens concerned about the future of the hospital operated by Providence Health Care under the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

Granby called the meeting after hearing that a merger between Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) could be on the table. He says a union between BC’s two largest health authorities would pose a threat to the future of St Paul’s, and potentially the hospital’s “world-renowned” medical teaching programs and acute-care centers. “I think if it means they are going to be able to shove resources between the two health regions without being accountable to us, than it’s not going to be a good deal for us,” he says.

Vancouver-Burrard MLA, Spencer Herbert, who was also at the meeting, says he is aware of a potential union between VCH and FHA, adding that he heard that the provincial government could be thinking of taking centres such as St Paul’s cardiac center and renal clinic and “dangling them in front of voters south of the Fraser.” Right now the plans are speculation, but Herbert says if there is truth to the hearsay it could mean that the West End hospital could lose valuable resources. “Should it be the case, what that is doing is taking the heart out of St Paul’s,” he claims. Herbert suspects the government won’t be announcing anything regarding the hospital’s future until closer to the May 12 provincial election.

Health minister George Abbott says the coalition should not expect any answers to the St Paul’s question for at least six months, adding that the process is complex and one of many on the table right now. As for the rumor of one umbrella health authority for the Lower Mainland, the Minister denies that the province is working toward unifying VCH and FHA.  However, the Minister did say that the consolidation of purchasing, warehouse and supplies between the regions has been in effect for over a year. “Where we can save millions of dollars that can be redirected to patient care it is a positive thing,” Abbott says.

“It makes sense because we share the Lower Mainland,” agrees Vancouver Coastal Health Authority spokesperson Gavin Wilson. Wilson confirms that VCH is working very closely with the FHA through the Lower Mainland Innovation and Integration fund, a $75 million initiative implemented last spring to promote and provide innovative ways of delivering quality patient care, improving accessibility and providing integration and collaboration between BC’s two largest health authorities.

Shafe Hussain, a Providence Health Care spokesperson, says he hasn’t heard anything about a potential merger. He says while the decision to relocate or renovate St Paul’s is still up in the air, Providence knows changes must be made.

“The hospital is old. It needs renewal, it needs investment,” Hussain says. But making decisions regarding health care is not a cut and dry process, Hussain adds. In 2002, Providence looked into renewing the existing site through the Legacy Project but decided to explore the option of relocating when the False Creek Flats site near Main Street and Terminal Ave became available four years ago, Hussain recalls. Providence has not purchased the land but they do have an option to buy and are waiting on the government for more consultation.

“The government has all that investment in the bricks and mortar of this building and it’s not going to make sense just to walk away from it,” Granby says.

Bobbie Bees, a Power engineer at St Pauls agrees. While seismic upgrading and modernization needs to be done, he says, rebuilding an entirely new hospital is not the answer. “If we build a new hospital in False Creek, 20 years from now that’s going to be out of code, so what do we do? Tear it down and build another one somewhere else? Where does it end?” he asks.

But beyond structural renewal, hospital advocates say they want to see dollars invested in advanced research facilities and a state-of-the-art medical centre that reflect the queer community’s interests.

“There’s a huge opportunity for community identity on site,” Granby says. “The Centre could be built at St Paul’s on Thurlow so there’s a strategic partnership [where] a lot of people can achieve their goals.”

“I think we’re ready to move forward and grab the agenda and grab the dialogue and take it where we want to take it,” says Jim Deva, a coalition member. He says whatever decision the government makes about St Paul’s, the coalition must be ready to respond. From drafting models of how the renovated hospital should look, to writing letters to the premier and new mayor, the coalition has vowed to become more proactive in their fight to save and expand the hospital. 

“It’s the idea of rebuilding St Pauls, revitalizing St Pauls, renewing St Pauls, ” Herbert says. “We love this hospital but we want it to be more than it is.”