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Nova Scotia adds hundreds more beds to redevelopment of Halifax hospital complex

HALIFAX — The planned redevelopment of a sprawling Halifax hospital complex is being reworked to add hundreds more beds and new facilities, the Nova Scotia government announced Thursday.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston attends a news conference in Halifax on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX — The planned redevelopment of a sprawling Halifax hospital complex is being reworked to add hundreds more beds and new facilities, the Nova Scotia government announced Thursday.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston did not release a revised cost estimate for the QEII New Generation project, which was originally projected to cost $2 billion when it was announced in 2016. The premier hinted the work will cost “billions” but refused to provide a figure when pressed by reporters.

“This is about getting the facilities that we need in this province to meet the needs of Nova Scotians, and whatever it costs, it will cost,” said Houston.

He said the government is in the final stages of concluding an agreement with the Plenary PCL Health consortium, the lone bidder for previously planned work on the Halifax Infirmary site, which is the largest component of the overall project.

“We are ready to put shovels in the ground, and we are going to do that in early 2023,” Houston said. Work on major elements of the redevelopment, such as the Infirmary, is expected to take five years, he said, although he didn’t provide specific timelines.

Under the reworked plan, Plenary is to build a new patient facility at the Infirmary site along with four additional operating rooms, an emergency department and a cancer centre, with some of the work expected to begin this spring.

The work is a change from the original plan, which didn’t include a new emergency room at the Infirmary. The revamped hospital site is to eventually allow the transfer of services from the aging Victoria General Hospital located nearby.

Karen Oldfield, CEO of the province’s health authority, said she has heard from health-care workers that the redevelopment work is urgently needed.

“What they’ve told me … is that we don’t have time, we need to go,” Oldfield said. “This is really impacting our retention and our recruitment — facilities are not what they should be.”

Houston said the overall plan is to add another 423 hospital beds in the Halifax area.

He said that will be done through tenders for new projects such as in-patient services at the Cobequid Community Health Centre in suburban Halifax and two new “transition to community” centres in the Halifax area, where patients who don’t need acute care can recover from medical procedures. A new emergency department is also planned for the Dartmouth General Hospital.

The premier said the expanded scope of the new plan is meant to address the health needs of the province’s growing population, something the original redevelopment plan did not envision.

John Volcko, vice-president of national corporate development for Plenary PCL Health, said the province’s plan to break the redevelopment into manageable “chunks” makes it more feasible to proceed with its public-private partnership deal, despite concerns with rising interest rates, material costs and labour shortages.

“Breaking it up should make it easier to deliver, by spreading the risk over different buildings and not having to commit to the whole value of the facility all at once,” Volcko said.

He said the consortium would like to begin preliminary work by May, and he didn’t rule out bidding for work on the other proposed projects.

Both the Opposition Liberals and the NDP welcomed the changes in the project’s scope but questioned the lack of detail from the premier.

“You wouldn’t build a house without knowing the cost,” Liberal health critic Brendan Maguire said. “They won’t tell us the cost, they won’t tell us the exact timelines. I think that’s very troublesome for Nova Scotians.”

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said the public needs transparency when it comes to large public developments.

“People want to know what the impact will be on the provincial budget and that the money is being spent well,” said Chender. “Everyone agrees that this project needs to move forward, but everyone deserves the transparency of understanding how.”

Meanwhile, provincial officials confirmed that an agreement had been reached with Plenary PCL Health that would see it paid $7 million for work already done under the government’s procurement process.

Previous work on the massive project saw EllisDon awarded a $260-million contract to build an outpatient centre in Bayers Lake on the outskirts of Halifax in August 2020. The province has previously said the project is on budget and on time, with an opening expected in early 2024.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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