Recent news about St. Paul’s Hospital

The following story appeared in in the Westender, where I am quoted in regard to recent developments about the renewal of St. Paul’s Hospital. The article is reposted here with the permission of the author. Thanks to Jessica Barret.

Savings in saving St. Paul’s?
By Jessica Barrett

Supporters of revitalizing St. Paul’s Hospital at its current Burrard Street site, as opposed to a long-mooted plan to build a new hospital near False Creek, say doing so could present economic benefits beyond eliminating the expense of construction.

In an interview with WE, Brent Granby, president of the West End Residents Association and vice chair of the Save St. Paul’s Coalition, pointed out that St. Paul’s “has an over 100-year social history of being [on Burrard Street].” As a result, he said, other community- and health-oriented groups, including the Dr. Peter Centre, have situated themselves nearby. “There are opportunities for cost savings in terms of partnering with [those] groups.”

Granby said he is optimistic about the hospital’s future on Burrard following reports that Health Services Minister Kevin Falcon has ruled out the controversial idea of downgrading St. Paul’s to a community hospital and building a new full-service hospital on a False Creek site secured by the province. On May 26, Falcon stated in a legislative debate that he had been in talks with Providence Health Care, the agency that runs St. Paul’s, about building a business case for revitalizing the hospital on its current site. A spokesperson from Falcon’s office has confirmed that discussions of that nature are in progress with Providence but are at the preliminary stage.

Granby said he’s looking forward to seeing a definitive plan for the future of St. Paul’s in the West End. “I think the exciting thing right now, from Falcon’s comments in the Legislature…, is that there seems to be a growing consensus right now, both from Providence Health Care and the Minister of Health Services and Vancouver Coastal Health, that renewal of St. Paul’s on the Burrard Street location is going to be the best step to go forward.”

“There’s always been this confusion about what’s going on; it seems now that everyone’s on the same page,” Granby continued. “We’re advocating for a renewal on site. I think the minister’s been pretty clear in that he doesn’t want to talk about [the False Creek site] anymore; he wants to talk about renewal, and that’s going to be a more prudent option for the government to go that way.”

However, Granby said the next challenge for St. Paul’s, if it continues to operate as a full-service hospital, is cost containment. A partnership with area agencies such as the Dr. Peter Centre and the Portland Hotel Society could help decrease costs and ensure people who don’t require intensive care are not occupying hospital beds. Those requiring treatment for mental illness or addiction, or who are in need of palliative care, would be ideal candidates to benefit from a community-health approach, which, after an initial capital investment, could set St. Paul’s up for considerable cost savings in the future, he said. “A lot of those people use a lot of services in the emergency room, and it costs the system a lot of money, but if they were in a supportive-housing situation where they had more community health access on an ongoing basis, as opposed to intensive care, there would be huge savings.”

Spencer Chandra Herbert, NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End, also applauded Falcon’s fledgling commitment to keeping St. Paul’s on Burrard. With the bill for a new hospital estimated to be as much as $1 billion, it makes more financial sense to revitalize the hospital in phases on its current site, he said. “In the kind of fiscal climate we’re in right now, I don’t know how likely it is that a government would be able to find $1 billion to do a new hospital elsewhere, outside of downtown, whereas I think it’s much more likely that we could manage to pull together $100 million and start the process of the seismic upgrades, start with a new wing or a new building at the St. Paul’s site, and make your way through the rest of the property,” he said.

Chandra Herbert noted an option for on-site revitalization had been brought forth by Providence Health Care several years ago, including options to partially finance the project, such as developing retail space along Burrard Street, but the option had not been fully explored by the province at that time. “Because the focus has only been on building a $1 billion hospital outside of downtown, the possibilities for rebuilding onsite have not had the same amount of investigation as they should,” he said.

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