A coalition of community groups opposed to the closure of St Paul’s Hospital has turned its sights on city hall.
At two back-to-back protests earlier this month, Mayor Larry Campbell and city council were criticized for failing to object to a tentative plan to relocate the hospital to False Creek Flats.
The BC Liberal government is also under fire for establishing a planning process for inner-city hospital services without the participation of the surrounding community.
About 150 people attended a May 13 noon-hour rally in front of the hospital. And about 80 downtown residents–including many queer activists–launched a Save St Paul’s Committee at a forum the next day.
Participating community groups include: West End Residents’ Association (WERA), BC Health Care Coalition, Mole Hill Community Housing, Davie Village Business Improvement Association, the Seniors Network, a neighbourhood Parents’ Advisory Council, the Rainbow Community Church, St John’s United Church and the Hospital Employees’ Union.
Two gay men–Steven McManus, a local activist, and Kevin O’Neil, a St Paul’s nursing assistant–were responsible for planning both events with Aaron Jasper of WERA. O’Neil said he was overwhelmed by the strong community response. “It sent chills down my spine.”
City council was urged to come to the defence of St Paul’s by speakers at both events. “City council and the mayor should be here saying this is a stupid idea,” shouted Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sister’s Bookstore, in a passionate address at the noon rally.
While some say the process is too advanced to be stopped, Deva argued otherwise.
“This is not a done deal. If we have to, we’ll lay in front of the bulldozers. I want the mayor here saying no to this plan.”
Geoff Meggs, special assistant to Mayor Campbell, told Xtra West in a telephone interview after the rally that the mayor is taking a hands-off approach regarding the future of St Paul’s because of a personal conflict.
Campbell’s wife is a senior manager for Providence Health Care, the owner of the publicly funded hospital. Meggs said the issue hasn’t come before council.
Councillor Tim Stevenson and Lorne Mayencourt were blasted at the forum by West End resident George Stephenson who charged: “Neither of our [MLA] candidates are doing anything for St Paul’s.”
They’re both all talk and no action, Stephenson continued, suggesting that Mayencourt has done nothing but take orders from Victoria while Stevenson failed to use his seat on city council to fight the planned move.
“He has not raised it at all with city council,” Stephenson charged.
Stevenson attended both the rally and forum and has repeatedly called for community consultation and the retention of health services at the existing hospital site. Mayencourt has vowed to resign if the hospital is moved.
Jasper of WERA told the forum he is encouraged by Stevenson’s promise to introduce a motion stopping the hospital move to False Creek.
At a May 7 all-candidates meeting, Jasper asked Stevenson if he would introduce a motion to stop the city from rezoning False Creek Flats to permit a hospital. Stevenson said “yes”.
Still, Stevenson insists that health care is a provincial government responsibility and therefore beyond the city’s jurisdiction.
But several speakers at the forum, including former city councillor Alan Herbert, told the forum that the city’s role is decisive.
Herbert says the city of Vancouver can “close the door” on relocation through its zoning laws. “It’s all about zoning, let there be no doubt about it. It could be down-zoned to a parking lot.”
A cheer went up when it was suggested St Paul’s follow the experience in Toronto where St Michael’s Hospital, also an inner-city hospital, was rebuilt in a reasonable time frame at its original site.
Randy Atkinson, past president of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association, told the forum that the loss of St Paul’s would be a critical blow to the business interests in the area. “The impact of St Paul’s is absolutely critical.”
Atkinson noted the value of the hospital in ensuring community safety, as well. “The late shift change at St Paul’s means working people on the streets keeping them safe. What happens when you pull that from the community?
“Innovative, creative” ways need to be found to keep St Paul’s where it is, Atkinson continued.
Michel Morin of Mole Hill Housing Society said the experience in saving the homes at Mole Hill next door to St Paul’s is proof that St Paul’s can be saved, too.
“If we’re able to save 100-year-old houses, I’m sure we can save the hospital that has for so long served our community.”
Accessibility to hospital services would be threatened by the loss of St Paul’s, noted several speakers including Allison McDonald, representing a neighbourhood Parents’ Advisory Council. She said hundreds of school children in the area and all of the residents served by the hospital’s network of HIV/AIDS services would face health risks if services were not nearby.
BC Finance Minister Colin Hansen recently noted that a hospital move is on the table but says no decision has been made as to whether government will support renovating the current site or transferring St Paul’s services to a new False Creek hospital.
Providence Health Care purchased a 17.2 acre False Creek property north of the train station last year which may be used to consolidate several health facilities the group owns, including St Paul’s Hospital.