P3 model for new Campbell River hospital comes under fire

Plans to use a P3 model were criticized at the recent hospital board meeting

It’s too late to scuttle the $600 million plan to build two new hospitals in Campbell River and the Comox Valley using a public-private partnership (P3) model.

That’s the message that came out of the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board’s meeting on Thursday.

“If we put a pause on this (plan), money earmarked for the hospitals would go somewhere else (in the province),” board chair Claire Moglove said.

Moglove made the comment during an eventful meeting of the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board held at the Museum at Campbell River in which the plan to build two new hospitals using a P3 model came under fire.

The first shot at the proposal came from a delegation by the Citizens for Quality Health Care. The second came from a delegation by the Hospital Employees Union. And the third shot came in a failed motion to rescind the board’s support for the project and delay issuing requests for proposals until after the provincial election.

That attempt was made by Oyster Bay-Buttle Lake director Brenda Leigh.

Leigh took two shots at getting the board to delay issuing requests for proposals until after the provincial election.

Her first attempt included a two-part motion that said the board needed to reconsider its support made in June of last year for the P3 model for building the two new hospitals and therefore wants to delay requests for proposals (RFPs) until after the provincial election.

Board chairperson Moglove ruled that the first part of Leigh’s motion was out of order because the board had already passed support for the P3 model last June and that included committing financial resources to the project (40 per cent of the cost) based on that decision. Moglove suggested Leigh revise her motion, which Leigh did, to simply request the province delay the RFPs until after the May election.

“I think we’ve seen and heard a lot of concern from our communities for the potential downside of P3s,” Leigh said.

Leigh said it’s only fair that the issue be part of a provincial election debate.

She is concerned that if the government were to change and it had a difference in policy, the region would be bound to a P3 model if RFPs were issued.

City of Courtenay director Jon Ambler doesn’t believe the voices in the communities speaking in opposition to the P3 model represent the majority opinion.

“The official public record shows that nine months ago, the people around this table made a decision,” Ambler said. “A great course of action commenced because of it.”

That action was the commitment to build the hospitals which has reached the stage where RFPs will soon be issued. Ambler supports the P3 because health care in this province is “woefully underfunded” and if the public model of construction was followed, we face the danger of money running out in the future which would result in what we see now, poorly maintained buildings needing repair.

“We end up with two ruined facilities,” he said.

But P3 is a model that supports ongoing maintenance and upgrades.

“The reason that the provincial government goes to P3 is because they don’t have money to do it publicly,” Ambler said.

Ambler further objected to the motion and “the politicization of the board by some members.”

Fellow City of Courtenay director Starr Winchester pointed out that she has been on the board for 20 years.

She said it is “time to stop playing politics with our public health care.”

“We made a decision, we committed ourselves,” she added.

Moglove said, “This hospital project has been 10 years in the making.” It’s not perfect but it’s better than what we have.

“We will end up with two state-of-the-art hospitals,” Moglove said.

Leigh’s motion was soundly defeated.

Gaining much more support was a motion by City of Campbell River director Larry Samson to address another popular issue currently buzzing the community right now, that of demands that the business plan for the hospitals be made public.

Samson said that the province has legitimate reasons for keeping that plan confidential. But the hospital board would be better informed if it knew what that plan was.

He proposed a motion that would ask the province to allow the board to see the plan but it would be delivered “in-camera” – not for public viewing. Samson’s motion passed.


The objections

Rich Hagensen spoke on behalf of the Citizens for Quality Health Care (CQHC) who have been actively campaigning against the P3 model for building the hospitals.

CQHC believe that the financial and social costs of P3s are unacceptable. Their preference is for the new hospitals to be built by government.

Their objections include:

  • Private sector financing costs more than government financing and if financial partners in a consortium find circumstances unfavourable to their profit-oriented operations, they simply can withdraw.
  • P3 claims to be “on budget and on time” are only so due to constantly changing budget and time agreements and “creative accounting mechanisms.”