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Still no funding for St Paul’s revitalization

A year after BC Liberals promised to keep hospital in West End

Though BC’s health minister says he is not contemplating moving St Paul’s out of Vancouver’s West End, neither is there funding for the hospital’s “imminent construction” on the current Burrard St site.

Minister Mike de Jong made the comments in the legislature on May 25 under questioning from NDP Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert.

De Jong told the House a number of projects are competing for healthcare dollars. “Within a finite budget there are finite planning dollars and, quite frankly, establishing a priority as between St Paul’s, Royal Columbia and Royal Inland is not something that has been done.”

De Jong says the revitalization of St Paul’s onsite, something his predecessor Kevin Falcon committed to on June 3, 2010, could cost as much as $700 million.

Last October, Providence Health Care unveiled revitalization plans that it said could be completed by 2016. They include the demolition of several buildings and the addition of a 10- or 11-storey tower at the corner of Comox and Thurlow streets. At the time, Chandra Herbert suggested the cost would be $300-$500 million.

De Jong was not available for an interview, but in a statement released to Xtra he encouraged West End residents to be patient.

“The ministry received a draft copy of the St Paul’s Hospital renewal concept plan on Feb 2,” he says in the June 3 statement. “We are currently working with our partners at Providence Health Care and Vancouver Coastal Health on this important project. There is still a great deal of work to be done before any decision is made.”

Since 2001, nearly $60 million has been spent renovating and upgrading St Paul’s Hospital, and more than $1.6 billion has gone into building and renovating hospitals in the Lower Mainland overall, according to the statement.

The option of possibly relocating St Paul’s to a new location on the False Creek Flats north of the train station at Main and Terminal streets first arose in 2003 as an alternative to upgrading the current facilities. Gay West Enders, seniors and their neighbours formed a coalition to save the hospital. They expressed concern about the heavily populated area losing vital healthcare services, not to mention a major economic engine.

“I’ll try to highlight the fact that investment at St Paul’s has not disappeared or dried up. There is a concept plan,” de Jong told the House.

Chandra Herbert asked about the advisability of spending $563 million on the BC Place roof upgrade as opposed to upgrading the West End’s hospital. He also asked about the Liberal government’s spending of $2-$3 million on a business case for the proposed relocation. “We know that there’s a vacant lot sitting, on which the government is covering the taxes — a couple of million dollars so far. So the money is there. It’s just a question of priorities,” Chandra Herbert told the House.

That vacant lot belongs to the Esperanza Society, a private group with ties to the BC Liberals, Providence and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. Xtra’s investigation into Esperanza revealed connections between its directors and the chairs of Vancouver Coastal Health, Providence, venture capital outfits, development and construction firms, hospital and for-profit health providers. It also revealed that directors of the Esperanza Society, along with their relatives, associated companies and operators, had contributed at least $70,650 to BC Liberal Party coffers since they purchased the land in 2004.

Two days after Xtra revealed the BC Liberals had spent $4.8 million since 2004 paying property taxes on Esperanza’s lot, then-BC Health Minister Kevin Falcon suddenly announced that St Paul’s would stay in the West End.

Chandra Herbert is frustrated that the funding to renovate the West End site still isn’t in place a year later, especially since the hospital has seen electrical and elevator failures in the last year. “Back in 2001, we were talking about St Paul’s. Ten years later, nothing is happening and the situation is getting worse,” he says. “Unless we as a community continue to push this onto the radar, they’ll continue to ignore it.”

The gay MLA used the opportunity of debate with de Jong to present a letter to the legislature signed by 22 community organizations. “We urge you to invest significant capital dollars to address the revitalization of St Paul’s award-winning cardiac, renal, HIV/AIDS and other programs as well as to address the seismic safety and elevator needs and support better primary care,” says the letter. “We recognize the many demands on already stretched healthcare dollars, but we believe that the proposed revitalization model is both financially responsible and responsive to community need.”