While many at a May 26 community meeting about the future of St Paul’s Hospital acknowledged the need for a new hospital in the area, they were equally adamant about the need for health care services in Vancouver’s downtown peninsula.
After a decade of promises from the provincial Liberal government that the hospital would be revitalized in its current Burrard Street location, the government announced in April that a new, 1.2-billion hospital would be built on False Creek Flats near Main and Terminal streets.
Though many acknowledged the need for a new facility, they expressed anger towards the government and Premier Christy Clark for misleading the community about redeveloping the hospital’s Burrard Street site.
Clark said in June 2012 that half a billion dollars was earmarked to redevelop St Paul’s in the West End. But the money never appeared in budget documents, while spending envelopes for other hospitals elsewhere in the province did.
“That’s my hospital,” resident Sheila Baxter told the capacity meeting at the West End Community Centre. “She lies, she lies, she lies.”
Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, who organized and emceed the community meeting, said the Liberals “broke their promise to us.”
Chandra Herbert wants to see a full consultation with the community about what happens next, something he says the Liberals should have done before announcing the new hospital.
He encouraged people to become active to make sure their voices are heard. Though the Save St Paul’s Coalition, which once campaigned to keep the hospital in the West End, no longer exists, Chandra Herbert says new leaders could step up to take its place.
Former Save St Paul’s Coalition chair Aaron Jasper says he’s still hopeful some health care will be maintained at the Burrard Street site. “When people say it’s a done deal, we heard that 11 years ago,” he says.
West End resident Bobbie Bees says millions have been spent on upgrades to the current site in the past few years to improve elevators, electrical systems and emergency facilities. “It’s a shame to put all this money into these buildings that aren’t that old and bulldoze them into the ground with no consultation,” he says.
Bees would like to see the buildings re-purposed to accommodate the area’s increasing population density.
Several people questioned who would benefit from the current site being vacated.
“The only people who want it to move are those who stand to make money building towers for rich people,” says resident David MacKay. The room broke into cheers and applause as he spoke.
Little Sister’s bookstore manager Janine Fuller says St Paul’s has provided primary health support for people dealing with HIV/AIDS issues, and other members of the queer community, for years.
She says Little Sister’s late co-owner Jim Deva, who died in September 2014, was passionate about keeping the hospital in the West End.
“There should be no moving of St Paul’s,” she told the community meeting. “Jim Deva would be rolling in his grave.”
West End resident Fraser Doke, who’s been living with HIV for 32 years, says he’s grateful for the care he has received at St Paul’s. He agrees that the city needs a new hospital, but says it needs to be in the right place to serve dense population areas.
Chandra Herbert says government officials were invited to the community meeting but no one attended.
“Health care services in the West End will be addressed,” health minister Terry Lake told CKNW News May 27, the day after the community meeting. “They will have a high level of primary care in the community to ensure that their needs are being met.”
Lake also told CKNW that the False Creek Flats site is better suited to house “the state-of-the-art, future hospital that people of Vancouver need and that serves, also, the entire province in many specialties.”
Christy Clark’s 2012 promise to keep the Burrard site followed a 2010 promise from then-health minister Kevin Falcon to keep St Paul’s in the West End. However, Falcon did not rule out building another facility on Station Street.
Providence Health Care officials in 2010 said the revitalization of St Paul’s on Burrard Street could be complete by 2016. Government officials repeatedly said a business case was in the works.
Then, on April 13, Lake said Providence Health Care had approached the ministry last fall about how best to provide health care options in Vancouver. He said the False Creek site would best meet the needs of the local, Lower Mainland and provincial population.
A 2010 Daily Xtra investigation into the False Creek Flats proposal found the land is owned by The Esperanza Society, which has ties to Liberal Party contributors, Providence Health Care and Vancouver Coastal Health.
The non-profit society purchased the land in March 2004, one year after Providence floated its proposal to relocate the hospital to the area.