An ambitious multi-million dollar plan to renovate the aging St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver’s West End has yet to secure the funds to pay for the project.
Getting a commitment from the province on funding the 115-year-old building’s reconstruction is “like nailing Jell-O to a wall,” said the Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert.
He was speaking at a recent public meeting in which the hospital’s owners, Providence Health Care, presented the renewal plan to West End residents.
The plan proposes knocking down and renovating several buildings and expanding to include an additional tower at the corner of Comox and Thurlow Streets.
Providence hopes to complete the project in 2016 at a budget of $300 – 500 million dollars.
But Providence is uncertain how the project will be funded.
“At this point in time we can’t say exactly where that money is coming from,” said Dianne Doyle, President and CEO of Providence Health Care, “because we don’t have a firm commitment from anyone.”
St. Paul’s Hospital is the largest healthcare facility in British Columbia and serves patients from across the province.
Providence hopes to complete a business plan in March and present it to the ministry’s treasury board for approval. The renewal of the hospital is only in the concept stage.
Province-wide health needs
Providence will be going for capital dollars from the B.C. Ministry of Health will be coming at a time when many other healthcare providers are also vying for government funding.
Fraser Valley has increasing demand for new and improved health care facilities. The BC Women’s and Children’s Hospitals have ongoing campaigns for funding. Other rural hospitals also need a boost.
After eight years of deliberations over whether St. Paul’s Hospital would be rebuilt on land in False Creek, the province’s Health Services Minister Kevin Falcon announced in June that the hospital would stay at its Burrard Street site.
Falcon said that the ministry would “make a significant new investment in the existing facility.”
But how much money the province will put up is unknown.
Chandra-Herbert said he has tried to get a firm answer from the ministry on when and how funds will be provided.
“[Falcon] said [funding] will happen somehow, it will be worked out,” said Chandra-Herbert. “It all sounds really nice but not much has been said in terms of actual commitment.”
A Catch-22 situation
Getting backing from the province is a top priority for Providence Health Care.
Doyle said the provincial government has signalled that if Providence is able to demonstrate funds upfront, the ministry “might feel more generous in supporting” the plan.
The St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation, a registered charity that raises funds for the hospital, is likely to provide some funds upfront.
Doyle said that the foundation has unofficially made a commitment of $50 million. Providence intends to bring this to the government as a working assumption.
Doyle, who has been the organization’s president and CEO since 2006, described the situation as a “bit of a Catch-22.”
The foundation cannot begin a campaign for donations until there is an approved project, she said. Donors are waiting for that approval from the ministry, especially after recent uncertainty over whether or not St. Paul’s Hospital would be relocated.
Now that a new hospital will not be built on land in False Creek, the 18-acre property could be a future source of funds for Providence to off-set its capital costs.
The land belongs to the Vancouver Esperanza Society, a non-profit organization. The society purchased it in March 2004, but gave Providence Health Care the right of first refusal to buy the land
Doyle told TheThunderbird.ca that the organization’s preferred way to profit from the False Creek land would be to partner with a developer that would put a business on the site. Providence would then share in the business’s ongoing revenue.
However, she added that Providence does not yet have plans for the False Creek site.
West End residents seek commitment
Community activists formed the Save St. Paul’s Coalition in 2002 to campaign in favour of keeping the hospital at its Burrard Street location.
While the group welcomes the proposed renewal of St. Paul’s, they are frustrated that the project is still unconfirmed.
Brent Granby, President of the West End Residents Association and Vice-Chair of the Save St. Paul’s Coalition, said that after eight years, he was encouraged by the noise coming from the provincial government.
To Granby, the province’s recent $10 million contribution toward renovating the St. Paul’s Hospital Emergency Department “would suggest that [the province has] a strong commitment to this building, on this site and renewal on this site as well.”
“Now we just need to see the provincial government actually commit to a capital project here,” he said.