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St Paul’s moving ‘inconceivable’: VCH head

But hospital's future still uncertain

ST PAUL'S ON HOLD. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health says 'any further steps on the renewal are not expected to go ahead' until a new study of health demands for 2020 and beyond is completed. Credit: Shauna Lewis photo

The head of Vancouver Coastal Health seems confident that St Paul’s Hospital will remain on its current Burrard St site, but renewal plans for the 100-year-old facility and construction of a new hospital remain uncertain.

“It’s inconceivable to me that it [St Paul’s] wouldn’t stay. I think it will be here and I think without question the population around it has to be served,” said Dr David Ostrow, CEO of Vancouver Coastal Health, following a citizen’s forum on health and the renewal of St Paul’s Oct 8.

The forum, hosted by the West End Residents Association and the Dr Peter Centre, allowed West End residents to address the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and Providence Health Care, the faith-based not-for-profit corporation that operates St Paul’s, about the future of their hospital.

“I felt Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and Providence Health Care were fairly forthcoming and well intentioned,” said Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sister’s bookstore on Davie St.

“They certainly said they still had both options on the table,” he added, referring to the options to renew the hospital on its current site or move it.

Deva was one of nearly 50 West Enders to attend the forum. He is pushing for the on-site renewal option. Moving the hospital “will be the end of St Paul’s,” he warns.

During the forum, Ostrow and Kip Woodward, of Providence Health Care, assured attendees that quality health care will continue at St Paul’s Hospital, despite large budget cuts.

“We’ve had to make some really hard decisions in terms of letting people go,” Ostrow revealed. “These have not been easy times for any of us, but we are doing this with the absolute clear and stated goal of not decreasing patient care.”

Ostrow said Vancouver Coastal Health has laid off more than 150 employees in the last six months, saving the organization $24,000. Many of the laid off employees were in administrative and support departments.

“If a nurse has to keep more records because of administration cuts how can that not affect patient care?” inquired Spencer Herbert.

The gay NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End was also at the forum and blamed the Liberal government for what he referred to as the veil of uncertainty regarding the future of St Paul’s.

“It became clear it is a political question of what is happening to St Paul’s and it’s clear that it’s been the Liberal government that has been holding it [the planning process] up all along,” Herbert alleged.

But a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health says “any renewal plans for St Paul’s would have to go through thorough public engagement and consultation planning first.”

The spokesperson also says “any further steps on the renewal are not expected to go ahead until at least a Lower Mainland acute planning process for determining health demands and services needs for 2020 and beyond — currently underway between the Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health Authority and Providence Health Care — is completed and reviewed by the Ministry of Health Services.”

The spokesperson adds that the government has not yet received a business case from Providence Health Care outlining proposed developments for the revitalization of St Paul’s. 

In fall 2004, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the provincial government, Vancouver Coastal Health, Providence Health Care and Partnership BC giving Providence $1 million to prepare a business case assessing whether on-site renewal or building a new hospital at the Station St site near the Main St SkyTrain would be most beneficial.

Currently the Station St site is owned by a non-profit organization and the province pays annual property taxes to hold the un-zoned lot for potential future development.

Providence spokesperson Shaf Hussein confirms that a business case draft has been completed but the information was never sent to the ministry.

“The draft was never forwarded to the government because the question of St Paul’s was put on the backburner,” Hussein explains.

“Priorities changed [and] there are business plans that supersede the question of St Paul’s,” Hussein says, adding that more planning is underway in the regional health care sector to “meet the increasing demand for the near future and long term health care.”

Brent Granby, president of the West End Residents Association and the Save St Paul’s Coalition, says the $1 million should be given back to the province if the study is not being used to help determine the future of St Paul’s.

Hussein says Providence Health Care has no plan to revisit the draft in the future.