Some things just need to be said...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Battle over St. Paul's is rising

St. Paul's is a hospital located in the Westend of Vancouver. A place that has come to be an integral part of the community. As I wrote earlier this year, St. Paul's Hospital is the closest thing British Columbians have to a community hospital.

It wasn't always that way. In the beginnings of the "Gay Cancer" days the hospital was like many others across the country and the United States. An ethics expert whose name I cannot recall right now came in in the late 80's to discuss AIDS and providing service to diverse communities, that made the Westend home.

The hospital provides many functions of local nature and many of provincial and international in scope. It is a leading Heart and Stroke treatment facility, providing a range of services to people from across BC and the Westend. Diabetes treatment is also highly regarded.

St.Paul's developed into a "community hospital" because of the AIDS epidemic that struck so many gay men in the 80's. Gay activists demanded treatment, research and support for people living with HIV. These activists insisted on being consulted on treatment, care and support within the hospital.

I recall visiting St. Paul's in the mid 80's to see my friend Cliff. He was there, his final days near. He was left on his own pretty much, not much was available to stem the tide of the HIV virus. Nurses would gown up when they went in, no one would shave him, touch him without a gloved hand.

Boy how have things changed. The hospital is now a world leading research facility on the treatment of HIV and AIDS. From developing drug protocols to world leading drug trials, they match up with any in the world.

Through all of this St. Paul's became the communities hospital. They treated drug addicts, people in the sex trade, seniors and the gay community. The hospital advanced palliative and respite care options for those dying and those living with and or supporting those living with HIV/AIDS.

That could all change in the year ahead. St.Paul;s parent, providence Health is looking at relocating the hospital several blocks awy outside the area. This would have devastating effect on many that utilize the services. Many using the facility live within blocks of the hospital, in a community that is safe for them to live in. Many would be disadvantaged and likely feel more removed from health services provide if it were moved.

We know plans are afoot to move St. Paul's for a few reasons. The first being the fact Providence health has acquired an option to buy land to build on. The option allows them the first right to purchase should they want it. The second reason is the provincial governments wish to broker public private partnerships in healthcare, much like the current deal with the Abbotsford hospital. Finally, given the need to raise funds for a project, St. Paul's cannot count on the provincial government to cough up all the money needed.

The current site of St. Paul's is on some of Vancouver's most underdeveloped real estate in the downtown core on a major throughfare, Burrard street. If Providence could sell the land they would make a significant profit.

To date St. Paul's is keeping tight lipped about their options. Yet during the last election St. Paul's met with provincial Finance Minister, Colin Hansen to discuss the option of moving ahead with a Public Private Partnership on lands the hospital has acquired an option to purchase from.

I see it playing out like this...

St. Paul's sells the current site to a consortium that will also build the hospital on a new site. Along with that sale, the consortium will be offered a 30 year deal to provide janitorial, administrative and security services along with the building contract. That deal will provide the contractor with a guaranteed amount of funding, pay the cost of building and a profit to the developers (Consortium).

Will we be better served with this deal? Likely not. Not only will we lose a community hospital, an anchor of the community, we will also see the character of the hospital change. British Columbians will be burdened with a 30 year deal that guarantees a profit and more condos and office buildings will added to the Westend.

Lorne Mayencourt has stated he will resign if St. Paul's moves. He should be safe as this project will likely be another year or more before it can be ready for real talks with developers. In the interim, Providence and St. Paul's have no planned community consultations and will continue to build the case for moving the hospital.

The provincial government could end all this speculation, end the uncertainty by saying no to moving the hospital. City hall could do likewise. I expect that the new group. Vision Vancouver headed up by Jim Green and Tim Stevenson along with some members of COPE will do what they can to stall or prevent the move.

To be successful, Vision Vancouver is going to have to elect all five persons they are planning on running for council. A failure to do this will leave this whole issue in the hands of a a lack luster MLA in the name of Lorne Mayencourt. I hope I am wrong, that he will finally prove he can stand up for the people living in the westend.

If you are keen to save St. Paul's Hospital go to Save St. Paul's Coalition.

There is a public Forum set for July 23, Saturday at 2pm. The forum wil be at the West end Community Centre at 870 Denman.

See story in the Westender "New coalition asks that hospital owners fully disclose their plans"

For more on St. Paul's, BC Liberals, Lorne Mayencourt, Tim Stevenson, NDP, Vancouver use the technorati search box here and at Queer Thoughts.

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