Province considering both a new hospital and a redevelopment of existing building: SHA

Victoria Hospital. -- Herald file photo.

A new hospital might not be coming to Prince Albert after all. The province is also considering “redeveloping” the existing site, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) confirmed Friday.

In a statement, the SHA reaffirmed its promise to fully fund the work but acknowledged that a brand new hospital isn’t the only option on the table.

The provincial NDP raised the alarm Friday morning about a request for proposals (RFP) on the province’s website. That RFP was for a consultant to deliver an updated service delivery plan, revised functional program and develop a business case for the Victoria Hospital redevelopment.

“The business case is to include a comparative analysis between the greenfield/brownfield options and to recommend a capital option,” the tender says. Greenfield refers to a new hospital, while brownfield refers to a redevelopment of the existing hospital.

“When finances permit, one of our next major health care capital investments will be to redevelop the Prince Albert Victoria Hospital,” the SHA said in a statement.

“The Request for Proposal (RFP) will assist the SHA and Ministry of Health in developing options for how to move forward. This may include redeveloping the existing site or building a new hospital. How we move forward will depend on which option provides the best possible care for the people of Prince Albert and the surrounding area.”

NDP says move goes against premier’s promise

Prince Albert Northcote MLA Nicole Rancourt was critical of the news, describing it as a broken promise from Premier Scott Moe.

Moe, who is also the MLA for Rosthern-Shellbrook, was chosen as premier by Sask. Party members in January, after Brad Wall resigned. During his leadership campaign, Moe committed to building a new hospital in Prince Albert as soon as finances permit. He vowed support for the new hospital as early as September 12, reaffirming his commitment several times since then.

Most recently, Moe spoke about the commitment for a new hospital for Prince Albert during a visit in May.

“We’ve committed to not only the funding of the Prince Albert hospital, but to the full funding of the Prince Albert hospital, the understanding that it is a northern service to people not only in the surrounding area of Prince Albert, but across the north as well, and it’s a valued service to the province,” he said.

The Daily Herald has not found an instance in its archives of Moe making a distinction that the province was weighing whether to build a new hospital or to redevelop the existing building. In September 2017 he did commit to “building that hospital” with “100 per cent government funding.”

Rancourt said the premier promised a new hospital for Prince Albert.

“The understanding we’ve had was when Premier Moe was campaigning, he promised the people of Prince Albert a new hospital here. That’s been the full expectation of the people of Prince Albert and area,” Rancourt said.

“We know that our current hospital isn’t meetng the needs. When we saw they were looking at redeveloping the existing hospital, t hat’s a bit concerning because that’s not what the premier promised.”

A request directed to the office of Premier Scott Moe received a response from Health Minister Jim Reiter.

“As committed by Premier Moe, one of our next major health care capital investments will be to redevelop the Prince Albert Victoria Hospital when finances permit,” the statement said.

Other parts of the statement were nearly identical to the one received from SHA. Reiter said the RFP will provide the SHA and his ministry with “vital information to determine what options … are the best possible use of taxpayer money.”

The province has also reaffirmed the project will be fully funded.

“Premier Moe also committed that the Prince Albert Victoria Hospital Project will be 100% funded by the Province,” Reiter’s statement said.

“As such, this project has been exempted from the Local Share Policy, a policy that requires municipalities to pay 20% and the province to pay 80%. This decision was made in recognition that the Prince Albert Victoria Hospital provides specialty care services, acts as a hub for much of northern Saskatchewan, serves the largest population area outside of Saskatchewan’s five major provincial hospitals, and admits nearly twice as many patients as the next-largest regional hospital.”

Mayor not worried

Mayor Greg Dionne sees the tender differently. In a phone interview, Dionne praised the tender as a sign that the project is finally moving forward. He indicated that redeveloping or expanding the existing hospital was always a possibility.

He also, though, said chances the province moves forward with that option are slim. He referenced narrow hallways and a lack of support for that option so far during the process as reasons the province may decide to start from scratch. According to the RFP, there are other concerns too. While work already done has deemed the mechanical systems able to sustain redevelopment and expansion, an electrical engineering study from 2017 determined a “complete electrical upgrade” would be required.

“I’m not worried at this point,” he said.

“I was part of the discussions when they were looking at redevelopment, and there were a lot of ‘nays’ to it. You have to make sure you can rule out one before you can do the other. I’m still positive we’re going to be getting a new hospital.”

He said he expects money for construction of a new hospital in Prince Albert, or for an expansion on the existing hospital, will be included starting in the 2019-2020 budget.

“They’re making the last $40-million payment on the (Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital) and the last $25-million on the hospital in North Battleford. That frees up $65 million to go towards the new hospital in Prince Albert.”

Province understands need

The Victoria Hospital was built in 1969, but has gone through renovations since then.

One thing everyone agrees on is that Prince Albert’s hospital needs more space, whether that is in the form of an entirely new building or an expansion of the current site.

“Additional programs and services, along with increasing demands for surgical and medical inpatient services have resulted in the Victoria Hospital being frequently over-capacity,” the RFP says.

“The functional space is stressed to where many programs compete with other services for use of shared space which has resulted in challenges for service providers and patients. The expanded services and the growing patient demand have resulted in the space being outgrown.”