After years of uncertainty, Health Minister Kevin Falcon suddenly announced last week that St Paul’s Hospital isn’t going anywhere.
“Providence Health, which operates St Paul’s, amongst other institutions, approached me with a new plan that would involve investing in the existing facility,” Falcon told reporters outside the BC legislature on June 3.
The announcement came just two days after Xtra reported the BC Liberals have spent millions paying property taxes on False Creek land commonly touted as the future home of St Paul’s.
The land belongs to a private society with ties to the BC Liberals, Providence and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.
Falcon made no mention of the land’s owners or their ties to the Liberals when he suddenly announced St Paul’s will stay in the West End.
His only reference to the False Creek land hinted the government should hang on to it for other potential “health investments.” He did not specify what those other investments might be.
“We’re working on the basis of making significant new investment in the existing facility, while at the same time preserving Station St for some potential other health investments that we could make as a government,” Falcon told reporters.
He did not grant Xtra‘s repeated requests for an interview.
Keeping the hospital on Burrard St will involve such things as earthquake-proofing and using the site’s extra land at the site for things “that could potentially include new towers and new investments and other opportunities,” he said.
The issue of possibly relocating St Paul’s arose in 2003, to the dismay of many West End residents. Gay people, seniors and their neighbours formed a coalition to save the hospital. Members expressed concern about the gay village losing vital healthcare services, not to mention a major economic engine.
Both St Paul’s and the BC Liberals have always insisted the False Creek move was far from finalized. They also promised to consult the public before making any decisions.
Falcon told reporters the decision not to move St Paul’s was “based on the discussions I’ve had with the leadership team at Providence and at St Paul’s, and meeting with the doctors and the nurses and the people that work there.”
Providence spokesperson Shaf Hussain calls Falcon’s announcement encouraging.
“There’s more clarity regarding additional investment into St Paul’s,” he says.
What Providence gave the ministry was less a proposal than concepts, Hussain says.
Now, he continues, there needs to be an examination of what the community needs from its hospital: “How can we take advantage of new technology and where care is going and how that translates into a new building.”
“We hope the minister’s comments result in more money and we can engage in formalized planning as soon as possible,” Hussain adds.
For now, the West End is going to have to take the Liberals at their word that the hospital will remain, says Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert,
“It sounds like West End voices are finally being heard,” Chandra Herbert says. “We’re winning the battle.”
But, he cautions, until money and plans for a revitalized hospital are forthcoming, “it’s just words.”
Brent Granby of the Save St Paul’s Coalition welcomes Falcon’s announcement.
“It’s always been our position that maintaining St Paul’s onsite was preferable, possible and prudent,” Granby says.
He too wants to see what proposals come forth for the site.
Chandra Herbert says he’ll continue to push for keeping St Paul’s in the West End, even if his party forms government and names him to cabinet.
“We had it right in our platform as did I in my commitment to West Enders,” he says.