Downtown Vancouver’s hospital and emergency room could close its doors in the coming years if rumours prove to be true.
According to Spencer Chandra-Herbert, the B.C. NDP MLA for the West End riding, he has reason to believe the provincial government is on the verge of reneging its 2012 promise to revitalize and expand the aging and seismically unsafe St. Paul’s Hospital facilities
At the time, Premier Christy Clark announced that $500 million in provincial funds had been budgeted for the project. The plan would restore the 100-year-old facilities to acceptable standards and construct a new 200,000-square-foot ambulatory care building on the hospital parking lot at the corner of Comox and Thurlow streets.
However, three years later, there has been little to no progress on the project and a timeline for development has not been announced.
In lieu of revitalizing St. Paul’s Hospital, Chandra-Herbert believes the province will resurrect its previous plans to relocate the downtown hospital to a vacant 18.5-acre site on the False Creek Flats – just north of Pacific Central Station, near Chinatown and SkyTrain’s Main Street-Science World Station, at the eastern end of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts. When the new hospital is complete, the St. Paul’s Hospital 6.5-acre city block will be torn down for condos.
“Losing our hospital and emergency rooms would have a huge impact,” Chandra-Herbert told Vancity Buzz. “It would make healthcare harder to get and cost us thousands of jobs in the community. It would just be bad in terms of the health and safety of our aging community in downtown Vancouver where we have one of the densest downtowns in North America with the West End, Coal Harbour and Yaletown.”
“Removing our hospital outside of downtown where you have to cross bridges and viaducts to get to healthcare is not a good policy when you think about earthquakes and other emergency incidents where the downtown peninsula is closed off from the rest of the city.”
Chandra-Herbert says he has heard of these plans from government officials, health care staff, real estate agents, charitable organizations and local businesses.
“I’ve just heard it from too many people now to dismiss it and the fact that the government won’t deny the case tells me all I need to know. There is no good reason to break the promise and betray the promise of the people in downtown Vancouver. But unfortunately, it appears that they are preparing to do just that.”
Vancity Buzz reached out to the B.C. Ministry of Health for comment and received the following reply:
Government remains firmly committed to revitalizing St. Paul’s Hospital. St. Paul’s Hospital is an important part of the network of hospitals in the Lower Mainland, serving a large and growing population from downtown Vancouver, and from across the region. We are continuing to work with Providence Healthcare on the best way to revitalize the hospital for the communities it serves. We must make sure that this fits within the future long term vision of health care in the region and across the province, focusing on more comprehensive community services and a partnership between Lower Mainland hospitals.
We must also ensure that St. Paul’s Hospital can continue to serve the community while the revitalization project is underway.
The estimated cost for the original plans of building a new hospital at the False Creek flats was estimated to be around $1.2 billion.
Providence Healthcare’s 2008 proposal stated the new hospital would be 26 per cent cheaper than a complete renovation of the current Burrard Street location.
In addition, the new hospital campus at the False Creek Flats will be faster to build – it will take five years to complete instead of 15 years to revitalize and expand the existing St. Paul’s Hospital.
More importantly, the False Creek Flats site has more space to expand to meet both existing and future demand whereas the existing downtown site is constricted and possesses limited expansion possibilities.
But the City of Vancouver’s recently proposed plans to demolish the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts could hamper a direct and quick access from downtown to the new hospital facilities.
The original False Creek Flats hospital plan also called for maintaining a certain level of services at the St. Paul’s Hospital site, including an Urgent Care Centre (similar to UBC), seniors’ care and services, seniors’ housing and social housing. These plans were canceled when West End residents fought against the relocation plan.