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BC Politics
Urban Planning + Architecture

Closing St. Paul's a Shortsighted Betrayal

Liberals backtrack on promise to renovate historic downtown hospital.

Bill Tieleman 21 Apr

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at [email protected] or visit his blog.

"We are going to be putting people's lives in harms' way." -- Aaron Jasper, former Save St. Paul's Hospital Coalition chair

Forget the spin that closing St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver's West End and opening a giant new facility in East Vancouver's False Creek flats is "world-leading."

It's actually an enormous error; an outright betrayal of BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark's 2012 promise to renovate St. Paul's; an expensive option costing taxpayers an extra $500 million more than a completely feasible retrofit; and a move that may compromise the health care of over 100,000 people living near the existing hospital.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake already admits the new St. Paul's Hospital will "likely" be a controversial public-private-partnership development, which often wind up costing taxpayers more just to keep debt off government books.

And Providence Health Care, the non-profit that runs the site, will surely sell the property for an enormous and profitable multi-billion dollar condominium play.

Demolished for condos?

The St. Paul's land is assessed at $370 million already -- imagine how much it's worth full of the kind of high-rises that already dominate the West End skyline.

Jasper, a former Vancouver Park Board chair, says it will likely lead to the closing of another Vancouver hospital, Mount St. Joseph's at Kingsway near East 12th Ave.

"I think Mount St. Joseph's will go," Jasper said in a Sunday interview with 24 Hours Vancouver.

Demolishing St. Paul's for condos will mean that the millions spent by taxpayers to extensively renovate the emergency room and new buildings, which opened in the 1980s and are all functioning, will have been wasted.

And the new hospital would be built on an earthquake-prone flood plain, not good when the big shaker finally hits Vancouver.

Amazingly, this is all being hyped as putting "the patient at the centre of care," according to Dianne Doyle, Providence Health Care president, in a news release.

Somehow I don't think patients -- or residents -- were consulted on this plan, because the consequences could be dire for those who depend on St. Paul's Hospital now.

The new site is three kilometres to the east of the current hospital: adding 35 minutes to a car trip from the West End; about 30 minutes to a transit ride and an extra 49 minutes if walking.

And for many Vancouver residents, their hospital of choice will switch from St. Paul's to an already overcrowded Vancouver General Hospital because it will be closer and easier to get to.

The BC Liberals promised to renovate St. Paul's prior to the 2013 provincial election, removing it as possible issue.

A February 2012 Providence Health Care Concept Plan concluded definitively: "The new-site option was ultimately rejected as too expensive."

Premier promises renovation

And in a June 13, 2012 government news release headlined: "Premier Clark Commits to Redeveloping St. Paul's Hospital," Clark laid it out clearly:

"I want patients and I want our health care professionals to know that they can have confidence in the great priority my government has put on redeveloping this hospital, modernizing it and bringing it into this new century. So that's why I'm so excited today to announce with a firm commitment that we are moving ahead on developing a concept plan for redevelopment of St. Paul's Hospital as part of our Budget 2012," Clark said in an online government video:

Then-health minister Mike de Jong chimed in on video: "An exciting day here at St. Paul's when Premier Clark arrives to really formalize the commitment to get on with the redevelopment of the hospital here."

Those promises led to the Save St. Paul's Hospital Coalition disbanding, says Jasper, because they thought: "Hey, we won!"

And then-B.C. health minister Margaret MacDiarmid gave more reassurances in February 2013 on the election eve: "St. Paul's Hospital is world-renowned for its research, teaching and care. We're making sure it remains a hub of innovation, excellence and compassionate patient care, serving British Columbian families far into the future," MacDiarmid said.

But that was then and this is now, and Clark has yet to comment on her broken promise, instead letting others praise the plan.

That hasn't yet included the city of Vancouver, which the B.C. government surprised with the announcement. It's telling because Vancouver will have to deal with the consequences but wasn't consulted on the decision.

Former BC Liberal attorney general Geoff Plant, now chair of Providence's board of directors was effusive.

"Health care has to trump nostalgia," he claimed, as if this was merely a case of a heritage building standing in the way of progress.

In fact, Clark's brazen broken pledge is about privatization and profits coming before patients and promises.

To be clear, a new, larger hospital has benefits and many good people support the plan, despite the distance and higher costs.

But Jasper, now a realtor, says it's all about location, location, location.

"We're encouraging people to live downtown -- so shouldn't we have at least some significant level of emergency and acute care services?"

Saving St. Paul's Hospital in its existing location may never be more important.  [Tyee]

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