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Delays persist with major health-care construction projects in Nova Scotia

The Nova Scotia government purchased this unfinished hotel in Bedford for $34 million to convert it into a transitional care unit. Those renovations are now expected to be complete later this year. (Paul Poirier/CBC - image credit)
The Nova Scotia government purchased this unfinished hotel in Bedford for $34 million to convert it into a transitional care unit. Those renovations are now expected to be complete later this year. (Paul Poirier/CBC - image credit)

Opposition leaders say the public deserves more information about delays related to several major health-care construction projects in Nova Scotia.

"If these projects are going to continue to be delayed, the government has a responsibility to tell people why and what the updated timelines are," Liberal Leader Zach Churchill told reporters in Halifax on Thursday.

"All of their effort, all of their attention politically is on getting these announcements done and then there's no followup after that."

At issue is the redevelopment of the Halifax Infirmary and the conversion of an unfinished hotel that, once complete, will be able to house patients not ready to return home but who no longer need a bed in hospital.

Colton LeBlanc, the cabinet minister who oversees major health care infrastructure projects, told reporters "big steps in the right direction" are being made behind the scenes on the design work and negotiations for the Halifax Infirmary project, but he had few details beyond that.

LeBlanc announced last May that his government would spend $245 million to prepare the site for the first phase of construction, which will eventually see the creation of an acute-care tower with 216 patient beds, 16 operating rooms, an intensive care unit and new emergency department.

Work at the Halifax Infirmary has so far included a new pedway linking the hospital and a new parking garage and renovations to the entrances on Summer Street and Robie Street.
Work at the Halifax Infirmary has so far included a new pedway linking the hospital and a new parking garage and renovations to the entrances on Summer Street and Robie Street.

Advanced work at the Halifax Infirmary to prepare the site for the first phase of a major redevelopment project was supposed to be complete by this month, but it has yet to begin. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

That site preparation work was supposed to be complete this month, but it has yet to begin. The minister has declined to provide details over the months to explain the delays, other than to say design work for the project continues.

"I can say with confidence I'm pleased with where we're going and hopefully we'll see some action on the site in the next couple of months here," said LeBlanc.

The prep work was also supposed to include the demolition of the hospital parking garage on Robie Street, with off-site parking and a shuttle service being offered during construction. There remains no update on when the garage will come down, although LeBlanc said 30-days notice would be provided before demolition is set to begin.

"There's still a couple T's to be crossed and I's to be dotted."

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said talk about hospital redevelopment in Nova Scotia has been happening for years. The Tories announced an expanded redevelopment plan in late 2022, but have little to show for it, Chender told reporters.

"This from a government that is dedicated to fixing health care. That's why they got elected and this is yet another area where we see no progress and it's extremely disappointing."

Auditor general's report due next week

The Tories are also facing more delays with the transitional care unit being constructed in Bedford.

The government bought the unfinished hotel site last year for $34 million and is spending an additional $15 million to make it suitable to house hospital patients until they're ready to return home or move to a long-term care home.

The plan was for the site, which will have 68 beds, to be ready early this year. LeBlanc said Thursday that renovations could be complete and the building turned over to Nova Scotia Health sometime "mid-year," although he did not have a firm date. Health authority officials would then announce an opening date.

The project is the subject of an examination by the province's auditor general. Kim Adair is scheduled to release her report next week. Among other things, the report will examine whether the government received good value for money on the project and whether it complied with provincial procurement policies.

Prior to the start of renovations, CBC obtained a consultant's report that raised concerns about the ability of the site to meet patient needs.

LeBlanc said renovating an existing building will add new beds to the system much faster than building a new one from scratch. He said that when he looks at value for money, he also looks at "value for people."

Chender said value for money is value for people, and she doesn't expect the auditor general's report will side with the government.

"The question is, is this the best and most effective way to deliver health care to Nova Scotians."

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