Despite recent investments into St Paul’s Hospital from the public, non-profit and private sectors, there is no assurance from either the Ministry of Health or Providence Health Care, the Catholic organization that operates St Paul’s, that the hospital will remain downtown.
At an Oct 16 press conference, Pfizer Canada, Simon Fraser University, and BC’s Heart and Stroke Foundation announced an investment of nearly $8 million towards cardiovascular research and rapid blood screening tests for HIV patients at St Paul’s.
The money is going towards research, not into capital redevelopment for buildings, according to Providence president Dianne Doyle.
“We know that the state of our buildings at St Paul’s Hospital are such that we can’t provide the kind of care that we think our patients, families and staff deserve because the buildings are old, some are over 100 years old,” she says.
“They are not designed for the kind of care we want to provide. We have high infection rates coming in from the community; we don’t have enough private rooms to properly care for patients,” she continues. “So we’re committed to making sure that we provide those services, whether it’s this site or another site.”
News of the research funding came just one week after BC Health Minister George Abbott unveiled a $1.2 million fast-track emergency room to treat minor injuries, leaving more serious injuries to the regular emergency ward.
“Any investment at the current facility is a good thing,” says Aaron Jasper, chair of the Save St Paul’s Coalition, a network of over a dozen organizations dedicated to keeping the hospital downtown.
Still, Jasper is concerned, particularly about the new fast-track emergency clinic.
“This might be a bit of foreshadowing of things to come,” he warns. “The fast-track, or the services that will be under the care of the fast-track centre, may be all that we’re left with.
“If you read Providence Health Care’s proposal and listen to what they have to say, that’s what they want: to leave what they call an urgent care centre, essentially bumps and bruises and minor issues but nothing too serious. Anything more serious would be rerouted to the new hospital in Vancouver.”
In March 2004, Providence Health Care purchased land near Station St in the Downtown Eastside to build a new public health care facility. In its 2006-07 annual report, Providence puts forth two options for the future: revitalize the current facility, or build a new facility on Station St to replace St Paul’s.
“The services generally required by patients throughout Vancouver and the rest of BC would be provided at the new state-of-the-art health care facility on Station St,” reads the report. “Services required most frequently by downtown and West End residents and other specialized services would be provided through new clinics and medical facilities on the current St Paul’s site.”
The current site, according to the report, is seismically lacking and prone to airborne infectious illnesses.
Doyle says the future of St Paul’s is not entirely in the hands of Providence.
“That will be determined largely by the government,” she says. “We know the Minister of Health last week at an opening of our emergency department indicated that he believes St Paul’s needs to be renewed. But how that’s going to happen, on this site, on another site, the timeframe on that has not been determined yet.”
Despite repeated calls, Abbott could not be reached for comment.
Doyle says Providence remains committed to public consultation before going ahead with any plans.
“At this point in time we’re waiting for some Lower Mainland planning to occur before the Ministry feels comfortable with us going out doing public consultations,” she says. “They have to have some sense if the vision is something that is supported enough, appropriate enough.”
In April, the Save St Paul’s Coalition hosted a community forum which was attended by Providence vice-president Neil MacConnell, who committed to holding public consolations throughout the summer and into the fall, according to Jasper.
“They claim to have met with, I believe, about 20 stakeholder groups,” says Jasper. “I can say from personal experience after sitting in on a couple of their so-called stakeholder meetings it’s very much the glossy brochure —’trust us, we’ve looked at all the options and this is the best option’ kind of thing. I found it to be a really disingenuous process.
“Forget the fact they haven’t been well attended and the information presented was very biased. It wasn’t laying out the facts and letting people make their own decisions. It’s all been manipulated to bring people to that conclusion,” Jasper alleges.
Doyle says Providence meets with anyone on request, but has not set any dates for public forums.
“We’ve had many requests from different public groups and we’ve always responded to those requests,” she says. “We go out and we do talk about our vision and we talk about the process that we are at. If we’re approached by any groups we’re happy to go out and take our information as best as we know it at this point in time and get feedback from those groups.”
That’s not good enough for Alan Herbert, a former NPA councillor and city planner who left the Save St Paul’s Coalition but continues to be concerned about the future of St Paul’s.
“This is backwards. It’s not the onus on the public to request this information,” he says. “If I call, what am I going to do with the info? I am not a newspaper or radio station. I may get personal information but there’s no way I can put this out publicly. It’s incumbent on the Providence Health Care board to hold a public meeting and tell the public what their intentions are.”
Vancouver-Burrard MLA Lorne Mayencourt refused to speak with Xtra West on the issue. In March 2006, he pledged to resign his seat if St Paul’s moves to the Station St site.
“To this point I haven’t seen anything from our MLA to suggest that he’s backtracking on that commitment,” says Jasper. “We plan to sit down with him very shortly to regroup and compare notes. We’re looking for any and all allies on this matter.
“If we leave it to Providence there will be no open meetings,” he warns.