St. Paul's staying in West End: health minister
By Laureen McMahon
St. Paul's Hospital will continue to operate as Vancouver's major downtown acute care, teaching, and research hospital on land purchased by the Sisters of Providence nearly 120 years ago.
The announcement from B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon, first reported in early June, was confirmed at the Providence Health Care annual general meeting on June 9.
Plans to build a new St. Paul's on the False Creek flats near Main Street have given way to a new proposal by a team from Providence Health Care, the Catholic faith-based care provider which took over the hospital's operation from the founding Sisters of Providence.
Redevelopment seemed a better option, said the health minister, after it was made clear it could be accomplished without compromising the hospital's ability to operate its world-renowned renal and cardiac care units and high-traffic emergency department.
Agreeing to provide significant investment dollars, he added, was "based on the discussions I've had with the leadership team at Providence and at St. Paul's and meeting with the doctors and the nurses and the people that work there."
The Save St. Paul's Coalition, made up of patients, residents, and merchants in the West End who have lobbied for the past few years to keep St. Paul's at its present site, posted a positive reaction on its website.
Spokesman Brent Granby noted, "It's always been our position that maintaining the St. Paul's site is preferable, possible, and prudent."
Dianne Doyle, President and CEO of Providence Health Care, told The B.C. Catholic that no specific project has been approved but, because the hospital buildings are "old and no longer meet care needs, we decided to go ahead to try to redevelop at the Burrard site.
"Despite many conversations, we've never been able to work through the process (to relocate the hospital), so we had to take another look at how we can achieve a high-level concept for our patient population. Although False Creek has been the preferred option, it's time to go forward.
"I believe the new plans will meet some of our most urgent needs, and we are excited that Minister Falcon has indicated the government is prepared to make a significant investment to see it happen," said Doyle.
The current thinking, she said, is to build a new ambulatory care facility on the corner of Comox and Thurlow Streets, which is now a parking lot used by out-patient visitors. Plans also include taking down an adjacent building.
Upgrading the existing hospital, including the elevators, said Doyle, is also planned.
"We badly need some basic infrastructure support, that's for sure."
Doyle expects it will take the better part of a year to find the right people and come up with the right redevelopment plan.
"Phase 1 is to put everything on paper, then move on to the business case, which gets us to actual architectural plans," she noted.
The ambulatory centre concept was explained to hospital staff at meetings on June 29.
"I think there's a sense of excitement now that we have permission to proceed," said Doyle. "Right now, ambulatory care is spaced throughout the hospital, so centralizing it in a separate building will free up quite a bit of room for other needs."
The False Creek property continues to be held by the society which purchased it a few years ago, she said, and will be maintained for possible future development by Providence.
"This is still an unknown, but the ministry has signalled to us that it will be used for some other health need."
Doyle acknowledged it will be a challenge to renovate a hospital full of patients. "We hope to have the new building ready so we can move in those services before the renovations to other areas begin."